Mushroom Hunting: Mushroom Oddities

By Tom Nauman

The fungi kingdom has many oddities. I thought it might be fun to share a few.

The Jack-O-Lantern Mushroom (Omphalotus illudens or Omphalotus olearius) actually glows in the dark! It is extremely poisonous and typically grows on or near hardwoods. It's daytime color is pumpkin orange but at night fresh specimens emit an eerie green glow. It's reported that the glow can be bright enough to read by. David Arora reports in Mushrooms Demystified of a shipwrecked sailor who wrote his last message by the light of a jack-o-lantern mushroom, using ink from a shaggy mane (Coprinus comatus) mushroom, with a pen made from the stem of an Agaricus mushroom. He died of starvation because he was afraid to eat any of the mushrooms he had found!

A cousin of the shaggy mane is commonly called the alcohol inky or tippler's bane (Coprinus altramentarius). It has the strange property in that it is perfectly safe to eat unless you are planning to consume alcohol in the near future. According to Gary H. Lincoff in The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms, "the mushroom inactivates an enzyme that detoxifies alcohol in the system. Recovery is spontaneous, usually within a couple of hours." Symptoms include: flushing of the face and neck, tingling of fingers and toes, headache, and sometimes nausea.

The Hebeloma syriense is also called the corpse finder mushroom because it is often found growing near corpses! Mr. Lincoff states that it once brought a crime to light when human remains were found beneath it.

There is also a mushroom call dead man's fingers (Xylaria polymorpha). So named because of it's appearance. When young, it will look like gray fingers emerging from the soil. With age, the fingers twist, bend, and turn black to resemble decaying fingers. There are also mushrooms known as dead man's hand and dead mans foot because of like similarities to their namesakes.

The netted stinkhorn (Dictyophora duplicata) has a slimy ooze covering its cap that smells like decaying meat. This feature enables the mushroom to attract flies and other insects that carry its spores away. When the ooze is gone the pattern on the cap resembles an aging morel. However, the stinkhorn grows in the late summer or fall.

The artist's conk (Ganoderma applanatum), which is very common in Illinois, has a cream colored underside that turns dark brown when pressure is applied. Artists use them to create an image by drawing with a stick or even a fingernail. The image must be created within a few days of removing the mushroom from the tree. After a few weeks the mushroom dries and no further artwork is possible. In Romania they are actually pounded and shaped into hats.

The fairy ring mushroom (Marasmius oreades) are thus named because they grow in a circle and in olden times was thought to be a magical place where fairies danced in the circle of mushrooms or where gnomes buried their treasure. It is common for the ring to be evident even if there are no mushrooms present because the mycelium on the outer edges stimulates the growth of grass on its outer fringes while the older mass of mycelium within the ring inhibits the growth of grass. So if you see a circle of brown grass surrounded by a ring of plush green grass, chances are you've discovered a fairy ring. The mushrooms will return after a rain and the ring will increase in diameter each year. Mr. Lincoff says that segments of some rings in the west are 600 years old!

Next month we're going morel hunting without leaving the house.

Remember, whenever you want to try eating a mushroom you're not familiar with, check it in at least two field guides. If they say it's edible, try just a nibble, wait 24 hours, and if there are no ill effects then consume larger amounts.

The new Morel Mania catalog is available. To get one, phone or mail your address to us. Or, they're available at our booth at Crafter's Marketplace at Glen and University in Peoria.

Please feel free to contact us with questions or comments. Especially if you have ideas or suggestions for future columns: Tom and Vicky Nauman, Morel Mania, RR1 - Box 42, Magnolia, IL 61336, Phone 309-364-3319, Fax 309-364-2960.