Tag Archives: russula nigricans

Autumn arrives in Britain – It’s Mushroomtime…


As anyone in rural areas of the north will not need to be told, yesterday autumn arrived in Britain, with a splash. The temperature dropped by about ten degrees in most places, and nearly everywhere had a very welcome downpour. We’ve just had the best summer since 2006, but it does now look as if it’s over. Hopefully (from my point of view anyway) there will be no repeats of the misplaced October heatwave we were subjected to in 2011.

7th September 2013, Sussex.

7th September 2013, Sussex.

It’s also perfect timing in terms of fungi. The first big flush of autumn species had just started poking their heads above ground in the last few days, and the change in the weather means they won’t get dried out and with a bit of luck they will start fruiting in abundance. Today was my first (advertised as) peak session with a group of foraging students, and it produced my first decent basketful of English wild mushrooms of 2013 (we are about 3 or 4 weeks behind northern Scotland down here on the south coast).

We found in excess of forty species altogether, and if I include a couple I found before the session officially started, the list of edible species found today is as follows:

Parasol mushroom (Macrolepiota procera), ruby bolete (Xerocomus rubellus), larch bolete (Suillus grevellei), bay bolete (Boletus badius), the blusher (Amanita rubescens), tawny grisette (Amanita fulva), brown birch bolete (Leccinum scabrum), blackening russula (Russula nigricans), rooting shank (Oudemansiella radicata), orange oak bolete (Leccinum aurantiacum), velvet russula (Russula violiepes), the miller (Clitopilus prunulus), blushing wood mushroom (Agaricus silvaticus), honey fungus (Armillaria mellea) and chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus).

Now is the time to book if you want to go mushrooming with an expert this autumn! 🙂



Powdery Piggybacks!


Blackening russula (R. Nigricans).

Blackening russula (R. Nigricans).

There is no shortage of oddities in the world of fungi. I’m yet to find the powdercap strangler (Squamanita paradoxa), which takes over the fruiting body of another fungus (Cystoderma amianthinum) and replaces its cap with its own – resulting in the fungal equivalent of something like a dog with a cat’s head, or the horn stalkball, which only grows on old sheep/goat horns. I came across something yesterday that comes close though, and similarly demonstrates just how specialised some species of fungus are in terms of their chosen habitat. The fungus in the picture to the right is a very common mushroom called a blackening russula (R. nigricans). This species is edible, if not choice, provided you find it when it is still grey (more often you will just find its blackened remains, which persist throughout the winter). It is a bit indigestible, but pleasantly nutty and perfectly acceptable to eat after frying well in butter.

Blackening russula (R. Nigricans) with powdery piggybacks (Asterophora lycoperdoides) emerging.

However, not only humans eat these.  Most of them will be left to peacefully decay, but every now and then a set of small white blobs will emerge from the blackening cap.  These are mushrooms growing on a mushroom. This is the sole habitat of the powdery piggyback – it grows nowhere else other than the decaying fruitbodies of Russula nigricans. It is a bit unusual (for me at least) to see them this early in the season.

Powdery piggybacks (Asterophora lycoperdoides) on Russula nigricans fruit bodies in advanced state of decay.  Late August 2013.

Powdery piggybacks (Asterophora lycoperdoides) on Russula nigricans fruit bodies in advanced state of decay. Late August 2013.

As they reach maturity, it becomes obvious they are mini-mushrooms.  They are members of the family Lyophyllaceae – cousins of edible species such as the clustered domecap or fried chicken mushroom (Lyophyllum decastes) and St George’s Mushroom (Calocybe gambosa).  I have been asked if they are edible.  I guess they might well be, but they are so small and uncommon that it is hard to justify eating them, and they don’t exactly look very appealing.

They have a close relative – very similar looking, but not powdery, and adapted to precisely the same way of life.  These are called silky piggybacks (Asterophora parasitica).

Mushroom season 2013 is still ramping up nicely.  I found a perfect penny bun yesterday, some suillus boletes, a tawny grisette and loads more russulas.  Perhaps more importantly for me, as somebody who is currently hunting for photos, nearly all of what I am finding is in very good condition.  This could not be more different to last year, when everything was being massacred by slugs.