Friday, October 15, 2010
After a very dry summer, the rain finally came and with the rain the mushrooms. This week’s topic is a meaty one, something to sink your teeth into.
Name: The Beefsteak Mushroom, also known as the Ox Tongue Mushroom, is Fistulina hepatica. Even the binomial includes a reference to meat, where hepatica means “pertaining to liver.” The genus name Fistulina means “little pipes” and describes the arrangement of the tubes on the underside of the cap.
When and where found: I found a pair of Beefsteak Mushrooms at the base of an oak tree in the Towle woods on September 30. You can find them any time from July through October. I have found them in August other years on a different tree in the Towle woods, and also in the Conant land.
Distinguishing characteristics: No other mushroom has the look and feel of the Beefsteak. The cap is red, orangey, reddish-brown, or liver-colored and up to ten inches across. It forms an irregular semi-circle to three-quarter circle with a short thick stalk colored like the cap off to one side. The tubes on the underside are buff to pale yellow and each tube stands alone from the adjacent tubes. The top surface is often slimy or gelatinous and the flesh of the mushroom is marbled and very juicy. If you take a fresh specimen and cut a slice, it will look quite a bit like a piece of raw meat. It looks a lot more like a slice of beef than does a slice of a beefsteak tomato. It will also ooze red juice.
Polypores: Some mushrooms have many pores on the underside where other mushrooms have gills. Of those with pores, some are fleshy and have the profile of a “normal” mushroom with a round cap and a central stalk. That group is generally referred as “boletes.” Other mushrooms with pores on the underside tend to grow in a bracket or shelf-like form on the side of a tree. This group of many-pored mushrooms is called polypores. Then there is the Beefsteak. It is a misfit. The taxonomists have put it in a family of its own. This is because the pores are the openings of discrete “pipes.” With a hand lens you can see that each pipe is free of its neighbors. If you took a fistful of drinking straws and looked at them end-on they would have a similar appearance to the Beefsteak pores. Other polypores look more like you took a lump of dough and punctured it many times to create a multi-pored surface.
Edibility: The Beefsteak Mushroom is edible but tastes nothing like its namesakes beef, ox tongue or liver. It has a tart acidic taste which some people describe as lemony and not all people find pleasing. It is a source of Vitamin C. David Arora of Mushrooms Demystified likes to “marinate thin raw slices in seasoned vinegar and olive oil.” All the mushroom books advise that wild mushrooms be thoroughly cooked before eating. Beefsteak is one of the few exceptions.
Woodworking: Like many polypores, the Beefsteak fungus is a wood decay fungus. It causes the wood to take on a rich brown color desired by cabinet-makers.
References: Audubon Field Guide to Mushrooms, Gary H. Lincoff; Mushrooms Demystified, David Arora.
Submissions and ideas for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged on any species that occurs in the wild and was seen in Carlisle. Send a note, a photo, or the whole column to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have a mystery species, send that too.
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