Unidentified: whitish tree-dweller with broad stem

I have no idea what species these mushrooms represent.  And I wish 1) that I knew and 2) that the variety is edible because last fall these things were  growing all over the elm trees in my yard, and in the wood ringing my house.


These pictures are from late in the year – October, I believe, and after we had some frost.  I’ll pay more attention this year, because I have no doubt I’ll see them again.

They’re big and meaty.  A really solid mushroom.  Anyone care to point me in the right direction?

Here’s what I know:

  • Whitish cap, with distinctive crackling across the top.
  • Pale amber gills that do not extend down the stem.
  • Big, burly stem that has a bulbous flare the bottom.
  • Irregular shape – they don’t seem to be uniformly round.
  • However, the stem is pretty much centered.  They are  (very sadly) not oyster mushrooms. Very sadly.
  • They appear to grow singly.  I have not seen clusters of them.  (I have seen clusters, they grow in small clumps and singly.)
  • These mushrooms grow on living trees, well off the ground (eye level, and upward.)

UPDATE
I’ve identified these mushrooms – they are Elm Oysters, edible but not super choice.  They’re good steamed and then pickled, as they have a firm texture that holds up to that treatment.   Note that these are best young, and the pictures in this post show aged specimens.  As always, thoroughly identify mushrooms before eating!

 

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It’s not time. Not yet.

Reports of morel harvests in southern Illinois have started to roll in, inflaming the imaginations of shroomers in northern climes.

Mayapples. Immature, baby mayapples - weeks away from blooming.

But it’s not time yet.  Not up north.  A good rule of thumb, people say, are mayapple blooms. I spotted these babies last weekend – and we’re weeks away from blooms.

Up here, morels happen in May.

It’s not time.  Not yet.

Friend or foe?

 

An American Parasol mushroom. I think.

Early last fall I found a stately white mushroom sprouting from a fallen oak tree.  It had some berry seeds (wild cherries?) lodged on its cap, possibly dropped by squirrels dining in the canopy above.

The prior week, I had seen a snowy, glowing forest fungi. I am pretty sure that was a fabled Destroying Angel, which, as you might guess from the name, doesn’t agree with human digestion. At all. I didn’t get a picture.  It was beautiful, and weirdly tempting.  But I knew better.

A distinctive raised 'button' in the center of the cap *may* indicate this is a Parasol mushroom.

Now standing in front of another whitish mushroom, I was sure I was looking at something different.  I’m pretty sure it was some form of Parasol mushroom.  It had a distinct button in the middle of its cap, which was raised, and darker than the rest of the cap.  It had the characteristic bulbous flare at the bottom of the stem. Unlike the Destroying Angel from the prior week, it wasn’t snowy white.  But that really is meaningless – a rainstorm can sully a pristine specimen, which is one reason why I don’t go just by color alone.

A better look at the mystry mushroom's gills.

I’m fairly sure it was a Parasol.   But I left it behind.  It wasn’t terribly fresh, it was the only mushroom I saw that day, and, well, I wasn’t sure.

Had there been a few, I would have collected some, and I would have identified them rigorously with spore prints and other criteria.  I know where that log is.  Maybe a cluster of Parasols will await my definitive identification there this fall, giving me another chance.  But I’ll probably pass on them this year, too.

The first find.

hen of the woods miatake

I keep my beloved retired horse at a farm that’s ringed with oak forests.  One summer day, as I was paying my steed a visit, I looked off into the woods, and thought “mushrooms.”

The summer before, a friend of mine had found a good size hen of the woods.  She showed it to me, and I convinced her to let me make a wild mushroom lasagna with it.  The dish was a hit.   I tried to remember exactly when that had transpired, but I wasn’t able to recall when she found that mushroom.  I did remember that it was cool, however.

At home, I consulted Google, and ordered “Edible Wild Mushrooms of Illinois” from Amazon.  Happily, I learned that the season for Hens wasn’t yet upon us.    I had a few weeks to wait.

The following weekend, when I went to check in on my horse, I took a walk through the woods.  I noted dead and dying trees.  My pulse quickened.  I also saw a lot of nettles, burrs and poison ivy.  Ugh.

The next few weeks were dry, and hot.  Not a single fungus was to be seen, aside from a lichen here and there.  I continued sallying forth, teaching my eyes to distinguish patterns on the forest floor, and to pick out lichens.

And then it rained.

I eagerly headed out, and found a gorgeous reward – a big, beautiful Hen of the Woods (also called maitake, or by its Latin name, Grifola Frodosa.) Reverently, I kneeled down, felt underneath it, and pulled it free.  I strutted out of the wood with my prize, and went home to make a mushroom lasagne. (Cheesy, no tomato, just some spinach and ricotta filling, napped with bechamel and Parmesan.)

And that was just the beginning.

Hope Springs.

Last weekend’s temperatures soared into the 80’s, and then were followed by some nice drenching rain.  Good mushroom conditions – except for the fact that it’s early April here in northern Illinois.  We’re still a few weeks away from morel season.

My family casually hunted morels when I was a kid but we weren’t devoted hunters.  However, I started paying attention to wild mushrooms again a couple years ago, and made a devoted effort to go out and look last fall.   To say that I was handsomely rewarded is gross understatement:

 

A fantastic one-day haul: hens-of-the-woods, honey mushrooms and giant puffballs

 

I brought home four hens-of-the-woods, two giant puffballs and scores of honey mushrooms.

It was a truly magical day. The honey mushrooms were clustered by the multiple dozens around an oak tree, and next to them were three hens of the woods. I already had found another hen, which I almost dropped in excitement when I saw the hens and honeys arrayed in front of me.

 

Honey mushrooms growing next to a hen of the woods

I literally gathered what I could carry.  Both are perennial, and I know where their tree is. More will be found there this fall.   I staggered out of the woods with my load, and filled up the back seat of my car.

But the riches didn’t end there.  Driving down the country highway, I spotted giant puffballs growing under trees by the road. I swung into the driveway, and knocked at the door.

The woman who answered was very interested when I told her that I suspected that she had some delicious giant puffballs in her yard, and accepted my offer to identify them.

 

Giant puffballs

 

I cut one open, and it was pure white inside, with zero greening.  They were perfect puffballs, ready to eat. Uncertain about eating mushrooms found in her hard, she offered them to me.  I accepted but took only two, leaving the third to (hopefully) reproduce.

I am sure that this wildly successful day was an anomoly. I’m trying not to let my expectations become too unrealistic.

But I won’t kid you.  Come may, I hope to regale you with tales of morels.  And oyster mushrooms. And chicken mushrooms.  And in June, chantrelles…

Hope in the spring.  There’s a reason for that old adage.