The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 15, 2003

Features

Biodiversity Corner Old Man of the Woods

photo by Kay Fairweather

Name: Strobilomyces floccopus or Old Man of the Woods, or the pinecone mushroom. Strobil- means pertaining to pinecones; flocc- means wooly; -pus means foot, stalk or base; and of course myc- means fungus. So, this is a wooly-stalked fungus that looks like a pinecone. "Old Man of the Woods" is an apt poetic and memorable name. Even the young ones look old. It is a member of the Bolete family, so is related to famous mushrooms like the porcini or cep. The redundant name Strobilomyces strobilaceus is a synonym.

When and where found: Found by Jon Golden at the edge of his lawn on School Street on August 7. There are many "Old Men" loitering in the Towle woods these days too. On the Boston Mycological Club walk at Purgatory Chasm on August 10, these were among the frequent finds.

Look and feel: Strobilomyces are easy mushrooms to identify. The cap which can be up to six inches in diameter is gray or blackish with clusters of darker scales all over it. The margin is often raggedy. On the underside, where many mushrooms have gills, the Old Man has pores giving it a sponge-like look. This is characteristic of the Bolete family. In the case of the Old Man the pore surface is white when young, then gray, then black. The stalk is also gray and coated with shaggy, woolly, gray or black scales. The flesh of the cap is white and when cut it almost always turns an orangey-red and then black. The pores are angular and the spore print is dark brown or black. Their dark color can make them hard to spot in the shadier parts of the woods. Unless very old, Old Men remain firm to the touch · I'll refrain from anthropomorphizing. The ones I find are seldom infested with larvae which suggests that they are less attractive to flies than other boletes. They also decay more slowly than other boletes which can make them appear more numerous.

Lookalikes: There are two other species of Strobilomyces. S. confusus has a smaller cap and the scales are smaller, stiffer and more pointy. S. dryophilus has pinkish tones in the cap when young. They can be identified with certainty only by microscopic examination of the spores.

Edibility: All the sources I have checked agree that Strobilomyces species are edible, but not rated as choice. I haven't tried them. The engaging name, Old Man of the Woods, the gray to black coloring, and the disheveled, shaggy appearance work together to make me want something else for dinner. Slugs don't have these concerns and I have seen them in a determined but slow-paced version of a feeding frenzy on an Old Man.

References: David Arora, Mushrooms Demystified; Alan E. Bessette, William C. Roody, and Arleen R. Bessette, North American Boletes.

Caution:

I have seldom seen so many mushrooms of so many kinds growing in so many places. On Sunday, I saw one growing through a crack on a paved road! If you are tempted to try some in the cooking pot, please be careful. Some are extremely poisonous, even deadly. Rules of thumb and old wives' tales about what you can eat are notoriously unreliable. The only rule to go by is to first identify the mushroom and then check its edibility. As David Arora says in his book Mushrooms Demystified, "When in doubt, throw it out". If you want to learn to identify mushrooms, consider joining the Boston Mycological Club (http://www.bostonmycologicalclub.org).There are also many good field guides. I use Mushrooms of Northeast North America by George Barron.

Submissions for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged from everyone. The organism doesn't have to be unusual. We haven't done a fish yet, or a moss, or a spider. The only requirements are that it exists in the wild and was seen in Carlisle. Send a note to Kay Fairweather at 392 School St, Carlisle MA 01741 or to kayfair@aol.com.


2003 The Carlisle Mosquito