Photo by Luciearl
Hygroscopic Earthstar (Astraeus hygrometricus) is a late season, small or medium-sized mushroom—small when closed, medium-sized when open. The fruiting body looks like a puffball at first. As it matures the outer layer of the case splits into 6 to 15 pointed rays, exposing a nearly spherical spore sac. When fully expanded, it can be 3″ or more in diameter. When moist, the rays arch backward to the ground, raising the spore sac, and facilitating distribution of the dust-like spores. The rays sometimes have a pale foreground with dark cracks and crevices, appearing like dried, cracked mud in a dry lake bed. In dry conditions they fold back over the spore sac and become hard. At maturity, the spore case ruptures through a pore at the top, and the spores are disbursed by the wind.
Hygroscopic Earthstar has a global distribution. It is common in North America, Central America, and Europe, and has been collected in Africa, Asia, and Australia. In the United States it is common in the Great Lakes and coastal states, uncommon in Minnesota.
Hygroscopic Earthstar is similar in appearance to true earthstars but it is not even closely related. It is an example of convergent evolution, where species of different lineages evolve similar features. It is identified by the following characteristics: the rays are hygroscopic, expanding in moist conditions and covering the spore case in dry conditions; the upper ray surface is often pale with dark cracks and crevices; the lower ray surface is covered with matted, blackish, hair-like fibers; the spore case is stalkless, roughened by numerous particles, and ruptures through a single, poorly defined pore at the top; and the spores are very large, but this can only be seen under a microscope.
Photo by Kirk Nelson
Purple-bloom Russula (Russula mariae) is a medium-sized gill mushroom. It is common and widespread in deciduous and mixed woodlands and forests of North America east of the Rocky Mountains. It is found from June through October, singly or in groups, on the ground near hardwoods. It obtains its nutrients from the rootlets of oak and other hardwood trees.
Purple-bloom Russula is easily recognized by the flat, dry, velvety or powdery, purple cap.
Mica Cap (Coprinellus micaceus) is a very common mushroom in Europe, Asia, Africa, and North and South America. In the United States is seen from coast to coast. It occurs from April through October in forests and woodlands, in suburbs, in urban areas, and sometimes indoors. It grows in dense clusters on decaying stumps and logs, and sometimes on the ground on buried wood.
When young, it is dome-shaped, yellowish-brown, and covered with glistening particles. As it matures it flattens out, the particles wash away, and the cap becomes gray at the margins. As the mushroom ages the cap turns black, the margins become tattered, and the gills dissolve into an inky black liquid that drops to the ground.
Orange-gilled Waxy Cap (Humidicutis marginata) is a medium-sized, easily identified mushroom. It is widespread in North America but not common in the Midwest and northeast. It grows on the ground in humus, sometimes on very rotten wood, in coniferous, deciduous, and mixed forests. It may be found singly, scattered, or in small groups. It is edible but insubstantial and watery.
Three varieties are recognized; var. marginata, with an orange cap; var. concolor, with a yellow cap, more common in the northeast; and var. olivacea, with a olive-colored cap, more common in the west. The variety in most common in Minnesota is identified by the bright orange color; the cap that appears watery when wet but is never slimy; and the orange gills that retain their orange color even long after the cap has faded to yellow.
Photo by Margot Avey
There are sixteen species of Hericium fungus, four of which occur in North America, three in Minnesota. Comb Tooth (Hericium coralloides) is by far the most common of the three. It is fairly common in northeastern United States and in Minnesota. It is found in late summer and fall in deciduous woodlands and forests, on fallen logs, branches, and dead stumps of hardwoods.
The fruiting body is a loose, open cluster of delicate branches. It is white when fresh, becoming creamy-white to buff or yellowish-tan with age. The branches are themselves again intricately branched and have rows of evenly-spaced spines, like the teeth of a comb, that hang downward. The spines are the spore-producing structures of this fungus, corresponding to the gills on many mushrooms (Agaricales). The flesh is white and edible when young and soft, but the spines become brittle with age.
Comb Tooth is similar in appearance to the other two Hericium species in Minnesota. It is the only Hericium that is intricately branched and has teeth no more than ⅜″ long.
Photo by Kirk Nelson
Crown-tipped Coral (Artomyces pyxidatus) is very common and widespread eastern North America. It grows alone or in groups on dead, well rotted wood of hardwoods, especially aspen, willow, maple, and cottonwood. It can be found throughout Minnesota from spring through fall. It is edible but tough and stringy. It has a peppery taste when raw that goes away when cooked.
The fruiting body is a candelabra-like profusion of whitish, upright branches with a tiny, crown-like tip. The branches turn brownish as they age. Occasionally, the tips of the branches are brown.
Crown-tipped Coral looks superficially similar to many club and coral fungi. It is identified by its growing on wood; the whitish or yellowish color when young; and the crown-like depression at the branch tips with 3 to 6 points.
Photo by Kirk Nelson
Morel mushrooms (Morchella spp.) are some of the best known and most sought after wild mushrooms in North America. They are particularly abundant in the upper Midwest. They are edible, considered delicious, and are hunted for in deciduous woodlands every spring. False morels (Gyromitra spp.) look superficially similar and appear at the same time of year in roughly the same areas. However, false morels are poisonous. They contain the chemical gyromitrin, which is metabolized in the body into a volatile chemical used as a rocket propellant.
Gabled False Morel (Gyromitra brunnea) is the most common false morel in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It is found in the spring, alone or in groups, on the ground under hardwood trees. The cap is tan to reddish-brown, 2″ to 4″ wide, and loosely wrinkled. It is usually saddle-shaped or winged, divided into 2 or 3 strongly projecting lobes that are fused to each other.
Snow Morel (Gyromitra gigas) is a common early mushroom in forests of North America. It is called a “false morel” due to its similarity in appearance and seasonality to true morels. It is found in the spring and early summer alone, scattered, or in groups, on the ground or on rotten wood, under coniferous or hardwood trees, often poking through leaf litter. It is saprobic, obtaining nutrients from rotting wood, and might also be mycorrhizal, having a mutually beneficial relationship with the tiny rootlets of trees. It may exhibit both traits at different parts of its life cycle.
Snow Morel is edible if sautéed but not edible when raw. Some authors suggest that it be avoided due to its similarity in appearance to the poisonous False Morel (Gyromitra esculenta).
Snow Morel is identified by the squarish, blocky, convoluted cap that is compact and rarely has projecting lobes; and the massive, ribbed or longitudinally wrinkled stem that is often mostly or completely hidden by the closely appressed cap.
American Eastern Yellow Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria var. guessowii) is a large, conspicuous, yellow variety of one of the most recognizable mushrooms in the world. It is widespread in North America, common in northeastern United States, and not uncommon in Minnesota. It occurs in coniferous, deciduous, or mixed woodlands, woodland edges, and among planted trees. It is found from June to November, solitary, scattered, in groups, or in fairy rings, on the ground under pine, spruce, fir, aspen, or birch trees. It is mycorrhizal, obtaining its nutrients from the rootlets of a tree while facilitating greater absorption of nutrients from the soil by the tree.
Most guidebooks and authorities state that American Eastern Yellow Fly Agaric is poisonous, and it is true that about 90% of mushroom-related fatalities involve Amanitas. Fly agaric contains the hallucinogenic compounds muscimole and ibotenic acid. They may have been involved in prehistoric rituals. It is poisonous in large, possibly even in moderate amounts, but not normally fatal.
Mushrooms in the genus Amanita are identified by pale gills usually not attached to the stem; a white spore print; a universal veil that creates a sac-like base or other distinctive feature at the base of the stem; and caps that are more or less dry. Fly Agarics (Amanita muscaria) are identified by cottony scales on the cap; a partial veil that creates a persistent ring or collar of tissue at the middle or near the top of the stalk; and one ring or two to four concentric rings of scales at the base of the stalk. American Eastern Yellow Fly Agaric is distinguished by a bright yellow or orangish-yellow cap that is often reddish-orange or yellowish-orange in the center.
Photo by Robert Briggs
Split Gill (Schizophyllum commune) is one of the most common and widespread mushrooms on the planet. It occurs on six continents, absent only from Antarctica, where there are no trees to support it. It is also one of the best studied fungi species. The genome was sequenced in in 2010, and it is often used in the laboratory because it fruits so readily.
Once thought to be a single species with worldwide distribution, Split Gill is now known to be a complex of several closely related species that cannot be reliably distinguished based on their morphology. There are more than 28,000 sexes of Schizophyllum commune. Each individual is sexually compatible with 27,997 (99.98%) of other individuals worldwide.
Split Gill is found year round, scattered, in small groups, in rows, or in fused clusters, on stumps, logs, and sticks of dead hardwood, especially oak. Worldwide it is found decomposing more than 150 different species. The cap is whitish or grayish, densely hairy, and small, less than 1½″ in diameter. The “gills” appear hairy when dry, smooth and split down the middle longitudinally when moist. They close up in dry weather, protecting the spores, and open when moistened. Split Gill is considered inedible in North America and Europe due to its toughness and small size. However, it is used in the cuisines of places with dryer climates, where fleshy mushrooms are difficult to transport to market.