Careful what you eat…

Somebody landed on this blog today after searching “can mushrooms give upset tummy.”

Yes, mushrooms can give upset tummy. Some wild mushrooms found in Ontario can make you very sick and some others can kill you dead dead dead dead dead.

During mushroom season, I post about picking wild mushrooms regularly and try to regularly add in a warning. Still I worry. I have seen people in the woods convince themselves that very difficult to identify mushrooms are safe to eat. They might get lucky, but then again they might not.

I’m very conservative when it comes to picking mushrooms for the table. “Pretty sure” just doesn’t cut it. I’ve been trying to identify mushrooms for a few years now. I know a bunch of them very well but there are many more that I really can’t identify accurately. I work at getting better at identification. I’ve read some books and I’ve even taken one course – but as I’ve said, I’m very conservative about what I eat. I suggest you should be too.

Please be very sure about your identification before you eat any wild mushrooms.


A surfer landed on this blog today after making a search for where to find puffball mushrooms in Ontario. There are a number of varieties of puffballs but I normally come across three kinds, the giant puffball, Calvatia gigantea, the gem-studded puffball, Lycoperdon perlatum or the pear-shaped puffball, Lycoperdon pyriforme. Puffballs are have a pleasant mild taste and a texture that reminds me of firm tofu.

A few notes on identification. As regular readers know, I never recommend anyone eat wild mushrooms, and to those who insist on doing so, I suggest being very very careful what you eat because there are some deadly mushrooms in Ontario, and plenty more that may not kill you but will make you very sick. The giant puffball is an easy to identify mushroom, as they go. It’s likely the only mushroom you’re going to find that grows the size of a soccer ball, and looks like a dirty-white blob. If you cut one in half, it should be pure smooth solid whiteness inside. Until last year, I had only ever seen these growing in fields. However, last season I collected a few beautiful specimens from a deciduous forest.  One of the most popular ways to eat giant puffballs is to cut them into steaks, batter them and fry them up, I think you’ll enjoy these cooked up anyway you like mushrooms. In Southern Ontario, giant puffballs appear around the end of August.

Pear shaped puffballs grow on wood, and typically, when you find some, you will find plenty. If you do identify these mushrooms and pick them for the table, only pick them when they are young and still firm and pure white when you cut them in half. Some nasty amanitas in their young form look kind of like a puffball, but if you cut one open, you’ll see a mushroom-shape developing inside. Anytime I collect puffballs with the intention of eating them, I cut every one of them in half to be extra sure each of them is a puffball. I try not to make assumptions, even when they are obvious assumptions.

Gem-studded puffballs have a similar shape to pear-shaped puffballs but they are covered in little bumps or “gems” and they grow in the ground rather than on wood. The same deal applies with these – cut each one open and only eat puffballs that are pure solid white inside. I normally find the gem-studded and pear shaped puffballs in September in our area.

The photo shows some giant puffballs I collected last season along with a bunch of Lactarius deliciosus (Saffron milk caps) I gathered from different parts of the same forest.

A lot of mushrooms are good for drying but puffballs don’t reconstitute well. Some people dry them and then crush them into puffball powder and add that to soups and stews and whatever else. Personally, I don’t bother drying them.


A morning walk in the Enchanted Mushroom Forest

Sunday morning, the dogs and I headed up to the Enchanted Mushroom Forest for a good long walk. Well, I’ll admit I had an ulterior motive. The forest has enjoyed the magic combination of rain and heat that leads to the fruiting of mushrooms. In past years I haven’t found the summer mushrooms this early. Usually there is a longer gap between the oysters (beginning of June) and the first chanterelles. However, this has been a strange year so far so I figured it was worthwhile checking out the forest. Of course it does me and the dogs plenty of good to wander about in a forest.

I didn’t see any mushrooms of any sort fruiting in the forest. The only thing I saw of interest was some Monotropa uniflora – known around here as Indian Pipe and also sometimes called the Corpse Plant.

Indian Pipe is a herbaceous perennial plant that is fairly common in our Southern Ontario forests. I usually notice it in early summer. The curious thing about this plant is that it is white and contains no chlorophyll. Unlike plants that generate energy from sunlight, the Indian Pipe needs to have certain fungi present, fungi that have a special relationship with trees. If I understand it correctly, this plant draws energy from the trees via the fungi by tapping into the mycelia of the fungi. If there are any naturalists out there who would care to elaborate on how all this works, please leave me a comment. I think it’s fantastic that the fungus and the trees and the Indian Pipe have this special three-way relationship going on.

The particular forest where I shot the photo has plenty of Indian Pipe but is always surprises me when I see it because it is so unusual.

A Prediction I Like

The Weather Network has predicted normal summer temperatures this year, but in the Toronto area, higher than normal precipitation. This is good news for the amateur mycologists in the crowd. Last season started off well enough with plenty of morels and plenty of oysters but then a very dry July made it a poor year for chanterelles. Things picked up some later in August and into September. I found my share of hedgehogs, some good puffballs and some milk caps and as usual, plenty of lobster mushrooms.

I missed those chanterelles last year though. I’d love to see a warm wet July this year to get the chanterelles and the summer boletes off to a good start. Just sayin’.

Slowly Moving North

Morel in eastern West Virginia
Image via Wikipedia

My brother emailed the other day to say that morels were spotted in late February in Georgia and Alabama. Serious morel freaks track the progress as each week these tasty mushrooms appear farther and farther north.

Sometime more or less in the middle of May they will appear here in Southern Ontario.

Morel hunting is serious business. And, morel hunters are very serious about protecting their spots. I don’t know if it’s true but rumour has it my brother Salvelinas tosses camo-netting over his car so nobody will notice where he parked. The same rumour has it that he has been known to sweep away car tracks at the places he turns into his favourite morel spots. He will deny this of course. Salvelinas actually took me to a spot once that was so secret I had to drive blind-folded. How I didn’t crash into anything, I don’t know.

It will be most interesting to see what the feeble winter we’ve had does to the timing and quantity of morels in our area. I’m a cup-half-full kind of guy so I’m banking on a good season that will happen more or less at the usual time.


Where’s the King?

Yesterday, someone landed on this little chunk of paradise after entering “King Bolete Ontario Map” in a search engine.  King Boletes are Boletus edulis. They have a number of common names, but you may know them best as Porcini – the little pig mushrooms. These mushrooms are available commercially in dried form, and are very delicious with strong earthy flavour once reconstituted. I read somewhere that many of the porcini available commercially are imported from China. Who knew?

It is wishful thinking to expect a King Bolete Ontario Map to exist, but given how tasty they are, I can’t blame the searcher for searching. Let me assure you all that I don’t have any such map. In fact, I’ve yet to stumble into a King Bolete spot. One day I will, and when I do, I will surely go to great length to disguise its location. Sorry about that friends.

However, if you happen to be the proud owner of what you believe to be a King Bolete Ontario Map, I know you will need help authenticating it. Just send it over here and I’ll check out all the spots marked on it this fall and let you know if it is a quality map or not.  This is a service I’m willing to provide out of the goodness of my heart.

Monday afternoon in the Enchanted Mushroom Forest

Ash Boletes

There were plenty of Ash Boletes in the forest today. These are edible but most people say they aren’t very palatable. Since I almost always get lots of choice mushrooms when these are fruiting, I’ve never tried eating one.

lots of boletes

Many of these boletes had been a buffet dinner for bugs and slugs, but I picked some good ones.

I don’t know what this fungi is attacking the stump, but it makes for a beautiful shot.


This is the first amanita I’ve seen all season. You can see the vulva wrapping around the base. Although there are some edible amanitas, this genus also contains some of the most deadly nasty bad-assed mushrooms we have, so my rule is to not ever eat any amanitas. Better safe than dead.

Today I picked chanterelles, hedgehogs, two types of boletes and lobsters for the table. Not bad at all.

Scouting Mission

In the spring, the first tasty edible mushrooms to appear in Southern Ontario are morels in May. Those are followed at roughly the beginning of June with oyster mushrooms, and then we don’t see anything much happening on the edible mushroom front for some time.

If we get a little rain, there should be some interesting items starting to pop up in our forests fairly soon. I’m going to do a little scouting mission on Friday to see what’s out there. It could be we haven’t had enough rain and I’ll have hold off on wild mushroom omelettes for a while yet. I won’t know until I have a good look. I know a few places I think of as barometer spots. These are places that might not (but occasionally do) give up a generous number of mushrooms, but are usually good indicators that tell me quickly if certain species are fruiting in the area. On Friday, I’ll be checking these spots and if I have time maybe I’ll also wander into some forest I haven’t had a good look at yet.


A Forest Day

This morning, I packed a bit of a lunch, loaded the dogs in the car and drove up to meet up with my brother Salvelinas in a forest an hour or so from home. Salvelinas is very knowledgeable when it come to mushrooms and when it comes to trees and other forest plant too. I always learn something when I spend a day in the woods with him.

Today we saw a number of unusual mushrooms.

I’ve seen the big vase-shaped mushrooms  before, always in the same forest. I haven’t figured out what they are yet. If these mushrooms are familiar to you, please contact me or comment.

We observed many species today, but best of all, we picked a couple good baskets of mushrooms that included Hypomyces latifluorum (lobsters), Hydnum umbilicatum (hedgehogs), and Hypsizygus ulmarius (the so-called elm oyster).

Here’s two other interesting finds. The first is a nice specimen of the Northern Tooth (Climacodon septentrionale) growing on a mature maple.

I saw a couple examples of these when I was up in Muskoka recently. The other unusual fungi we saw were white elfin saddle, Helvella crispa. This is the first time I’ve seen these odd looking items.

As usual, we also came across some specimens we couldn’t identify with casual observation, so I have three mushrooms set up for spore prints tonight.

I also have the dehydrator going, drying a load of lobster mushrooms for winter. I had a very enjoyable day.

Falling Apart

I found this massive bolete and decided to bring it back to the cabin for identification. After carrying it around all day, when I got back to the cabin and took the mushrooms from my basket, this one not only had crushed a few others, it also fell apart under its own weight when I tried to lift it up. This one presented a challenge for identification because it was an old specimen and I didn’t have any young specimens of the same type to see what happened to the pore colour as the mushroom aged. As well, taste is part of bolete identification and I wasn’t going to chew on something that was disintegrating in front of me (would you?).  I don’t think there’s enough info to go on to ID this one, at least not with my level of experience. Maybe it’s one of the Tylopilus (?) If there are any experts out there who would like to weigh in, please do. I found it in mixed forest with hemlock, white pine, maple and maybe some other stuff in the immediate area.