Sunday, 13 September 2015

Lawyer's Wig - updated

Fungi can make their appearance at any time of the year but they are particularly associated with autumn. This is the time when wildlife organisations arrange 'fungus forays' and bookshops, I suspect, note a rise in the sale of books about mushrooms and toadstools.

Lawyer's Wig on a Byfield Lawn.
13 September, 2015

These thoughts came to mind when I was in Byfield yesterday. A single, very prominent toadstool was present on a lawn in the village and I couldn't resist a photograph. It is a specimen of Lawyer's Wig, Coprinus comatus. I was a little surprised because, in my experience, these toadstools normally appear in groups.

They belong to a group of fungi known as Ink Caps, of which sixty or so species are found in Britain. This species, also referred to as Shaggy Ink Cap, is probably the best known. The gills produce the spores but then liquefy and are probably spread by rain. In the picture it can be seen that this liquid has dripped to the ground to produce a distinct black circle. The bell-shaped cap rocked on its stem in the light breeze, probably helping with this process.

Coprinus means 'living on dung' and comatus means 'hairy' - a reference to the curly scales on the cap.

The species is edible when young and firm but I take the word of others for this. A little care is needed as the Common Ink Cap, Coprinus atramentarius, is rather similar but the cap is smooth rather than shaggy - and is mildly poisonous, especially if consumed with alcohol. It is this latter species for which the liquefying caps were once used as ink.

Lawyers Wig at Doll's Hill, Byfield.
23 September, 2015

Fast forward ten days days and I chanced upon these deliquescent specimens, where the cap had all but dissolved. Soon the whole structure will have disappeared. Job done.

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