Coprinus comatus (O.F. Müller) Persoon

Often called the “shaggy mane.” Edible and good when collected in the button stage (when the gills are still white), but compare it carefully with Amanita thiersii and Cholophyllum molybdites, which also grow in lawns and meadows.

A common sight on disturbed ground, roadsides, and grasslands, Coprinus comatus often appears after wet spells in lines, bunches, and fairy circles. Where C. comatus wants to grow, it grows—it can power its way through asphalt and concrete, and one robust Pacific Northwest relative reaches nearly 20 inches in height.

C. comatus grows by absorbing moisture from the air, though it can also eat and digest certain nematodes (roundworms). In youth C. comatus appears in its scaly, edible form, distinguished by the white gills.

Not for nothing is it called the shaggy inky cap, however. As C. comatus matures, the gills turn pink, then fill with a black liquid gravid with spores. The spores spread as the inky goo drips to the ground. That job done, the mushroom begins to devour itself via auto-digestion.

Mild tasting and rich in both protein and amino acids, C. comatus is a notoriously poor keeper, as picking triggers the auto-digestion process. Chefs typically have twenty-four hours to use the mushroom—forty-eight if they hurry it into a freezer—before C. comatus turns into a black mess. But if that happens, all is not lost. People used mushroom ink in the past. A unique birthday card or drawing for the mycologist in your life awaits.

The UIP book (released today) Mushrooms of the Midwest describes and illustrates over five hundred of the region’s mushroom species.

Authors Michael Kuo and Andrew S. Methven provide identification keys and thorough descriptions. The authors discuss the DNA revolution in mycology and its consequences for classification and identification, as well as the need for well-documented contemporary collections of mushrooms.

Each “Mushroom Monday” get a taste of this unique and beautifully illustrated book here on the UIP blog.

Photo: Michael Kuo

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