Shaggy Ink Caps, Geneva :           Nature continues to surprise and amaze me; not so long ago I happened across this unusual fungi group emerging from the scrubby, shadowed ground whilst I was walking through a residential area not far from where I live. The stark creamy whiteness and the perfect cone shape caught my eye and caused me to pause to inspect closer.

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And anyone who knows me, will understand that whatever mission I was on was immediately forgotten whilst I reached for my phone to take photos – and when I start snapping, minutes and hours become irrelevant..

So, once all angle and light composition combinations have been tried and tested, I drag myself away, remind myself of the task I initially set out to do, and continue on my way mentally noting ‘research Google toadstool/mushrooms’ immediately on arrival home.

My first investigation was to ascertain whether they were mushrooms or toadstools. Wikipedia states that both descriptions are simply titles, however over the years, the name “toadstool” has been linked to the more poisonous mushroom variety – my first interesting fact gleaned for the day!

Research of Google mushroom photography resources revealed this variety to be the ‘shaggy ink cap toadstools’, also called ‘lawyers wig’ and bearing the Latin name ‘coprinus comatus’. The first two names are obviously borne by the fungi’s appearance, with the distinct peeling of the exterior creamy surface in a ‘tiled’ effect up the cone shape. The stalk itself is long, creamy and smooth. The Latin name was given due to the cone shape and I believe, the sometimes undesirable effects suffered, having consumed a particular variety of coprinus mushrooms.

My confusion was elevated when I read there are several varieties of this type of mushroom – and some are poisonous, whilst others are perfectly edible. Personally, I tend to adopt a rather nervous approach to anything not resembling a field mushroom, having been brought up on these as a child and warned that any other fungi was to be avoided at all costs. I stand by that theory still today and therefore was quite happy to leave my ‘discovery’ untouched, to carry out its fascinating progression of disintegration and rebirth, as all fungi do over a period of time.

Apparently, this particular variety can be a delicious edible mushroom when young, whilst the gills are still pink and before they turn black – at which point they become poisonous.

The shaggy ink cap toadstool prefers alkaline soil, growing in small groups and can be found throughout Europe and North America from June to November, although they have also now been introduced to Australia, New Zealand and Iceland. (Wikipedia)

The unusual behaviour of this fungi is its fascinating process which takes place once the gills have changed from the young pink to the mature black colour. The mushroom then ‘dissolves’ in a matter of hours after depositing its spores. This also happens shortly after being picked and for those who are brave enough to consume them, the timing from reaping to eating is cut short by the rapid change of colour and therefore, edibility. Once the disintegration process commences, there is also a rather unsavoury smell emitted as the mushroom ‘drips’ to the ground in a liquified black puddle.

The liquification happens when the gills open and turn themselves upwards so the gills inside the cylinder can come into contact with the air and disperse the spoors through the dissolving process. My knowledge database was yet further expanded by learning that years ago, this black mess was used as an ink for writing.

And on that final interesting fact, I moved on to the more mundane household chores still awaiting my attention….

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