Friday, May 13, 2005
When and where found: This mushroom grows in great abundance in wood chips and mulch. It is fruiting now at the Congregational Church on School Street at the side entrance and in the mulch around the edges of the back parking lot. The first ones were up at the end of April and new ones are popping up every day — just like mushrooms. There was a huge crop at the church last year but unless new wood chips are added to the mulch, the crop will diminish each year. Anyone with a fairly new area of wood chip mulch in his yard, may have their own crop of wine caps.
Distinguishing characteristics: Sometimes, only sometimes, the cap is red like burgundy. The ones at the Congregational Church are more like sauterne or a dark chardonnay. The caps are conical to bell-shaped when young and flatten out as they mature. The caps can get quite large — I have seen them in Concord up to eight inches in diameter — but more typically they are two to five inches. Always, the spore print is a deep dark purplish-brown to black. The gills which are densely packed and attached to the stalk, are almost white when young, gray to lilac when mature, and purple-gray when old.
Mushroom rings: Some mushrooms, including wine caps, often grow in fairy rings but it is the other ring, the annulus, the ring around the stalk, that can confirm the wine cap identification, given that the other characteristics are in conformance. The ring, or annulus, is the remains of the "partial veil," a membrane that stretches from the stem out to the rim of the cap. It protects the spore-bearing area when a mushroom is young. As the cap expands, the membrane pulls away. In some mushrooms the membrane pulls cleanly from the stem and leaves a shaggy fringe around the cap. In other mushrooms, the membrane pulls cleanly from the rim of the cap and hangs like a skirt around the stem as in the Amanita pantherina (Biodiversity Corner, September 17, 2004). The wine cap has a persistent ring that is broken into notches and looks a bit like a cog wheel. The upper surface of the ring is grooved and usually colored with dark lines where spores have dropped onto it.
Edibility: The wine cap is edible, and the usual cautions about not eating wild mushrooms apply, i.e. don't eat anything unless you can identify it with certainty as an edible species, and don't eat edible species growing on a substrate that may have been treated with weed-killers or other toxins. Gary Lincoff in the Audubon Field Guide classifies wine caps as a "choice edible;" Steve Brill in The Wild Vegetarian Cookbook calls them "this spectacular choice mushroom;" and David Aurora in Mushrooms Demystified gives a reference to them tasting like "undercooked potatoes soaked in burgundy." Since this is also the season for morels, which are widely acknowledged as one of the superior edible mushrooms, it might be better to go hunting for morels. I have yet to find a morel in Carlisle — last year I found a solitary one in Chelmsford and I have found a few in Concord. Look around old apple trees, dead elms, or soil with limestone.
References: David Aurora, Mushrooms Demystified (this book is excellent in many regards including an appendix explaining Latin terminology); Gary H. Lincoff, National Audubon Society Field Guide to Mushrooms; Steve Brill, The Wild Vegetarian Cookbook.
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito