Today I spotted the largest Shaggy Mane Mushroom I have ever seen–nearly a foot tall!–so of course I have to post about it!
Shaggy Manes are a kind of mushroom commonly referred to as “inky caps”. That’s because they grow quickly and then “melt” into a pool of black ooze that looks like INK. I know, that’s a gross description, but it’s true. Believe it or not, inky caps are edible (so they say) despite their obvious shortcomings. However, they must be collected when the mushrooms are young and the gills are still white, which means you have very little time to find them.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t eat inky caps. I just heard you can because my husband constantly reminds me that you can. (I think this is something he learned in college 35 years ago.) He often encourages me to pick them and cook them up.
A long time ago I did succumb to his encouragement. It happened when I found an especially attractive group of Shaggies growing along a trail in Oregon. That’s them in the photos below–1st) growing in the ground and 2nd) steaming on a plate! To my recollection, they were just OK sautéed in butter…but really, I think they are just more novel than anything else. To tell you the truth, I think I was just so scared I was eating something poisonous that I probably forgot to enjoy them!
(BTW, I am required to tell you: “never eat wild mushrooms unless you consult an expert and know for sure what you are putting in your mouth”. Also, I am NOT a mushroom expert!)
Now, back to Shaggy Manes… These unique gilled-mushrooms often grow in close groups, although sometimes they grow alone. They are shaped like narrow cylinders when the first come up–sort of like a closed umbrella. They can be white or tannish in color. The exterior of the cap is flaky, or “shaggy”, and the underside of the cap bears white to pink gills on the first day.
As I said earlier, they grow very quickly and in no time at all, the closed umbrella begins to open into a bell-shape. At this point, the mushroom will look more like the skirt of some messy prom dress (see above)–but noteworthy nonetheless. If you turn the cap over, you will see that the white gills are now dark black.
It’s all downhill from there… the mushroom will begin to “deliquesce”, or auto-digest, into a thick black ooze.
Another name for this strange-looking mushroom–and one that is quite apt– is “lawyer’s wig”! Look for it in the summer and fall, when it often grows in “fairy rings” (a big circle of mushrooms) on lawns and along the sides of roads where the soil has been disturbed.
Shaggy Mane mushrooms are saprobes, which means they Iive off of decaying organic matter. That’s a GOOD thing for all of us–they are nature’s recyclers!