Of Quests, Luck, and Egg Cups

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Filed under Outdoor Notes

July 6, 2011

Did you ever see something unique in a field guide and think to yourself, “Wow, I’d really like to see that”? I do it all the time, and there are many such things on my list. And many times, if I do a little research and get to the right environment at the right time, I find one.

Sometimes I just get lucky.

This is Volvariella bombycina, also known as the Silky Rosegill, or the Volvaire soyeuse for mes amis Québécois.1

Volvariella bombycina, Silky Rosegill

Volvariella bombycina, Silky Rosegill

So, what is so special about this mushroom? Well, not much really, except it grows out of that little egg-cup structure you see at the base of the stem (stipe for the fungal cognoscenti). That little egg-cup-looking thing is called a volva, and it is generally considered the signature of our most poisonous genus of mushrooms, the Amanitas. Amanitas grow from volvas.

Amanita spp. probably polypyramis

Amanita spp. probably polypyramis

Now Amanitas can be absolutely lovely, but depending on the species, they can be absolutely deadly—and the deadly ones are not that easy to tell from the non-deadly ones.

So, the rule is egg-cup=deadly. Learn it. Live by it.

But the Silky Rosegill is not an Amanita. It is however one of the very few mushrooms that grows from a volva that is not an Amanita. And there is no record of it ever killing anybody.

I don’t know, for some reason I thought that was pretty interesting. Not exactly the Holy Grail, but nor do I have “the strength of ten”; I’m afraid my heart is far from pure.

So I was amazed and pleased to find one of these mushrooms growing out of the side of a maple tree on a nearby country road.

It does not disappoint: beautiful silky white cap (pileus, again for the cognoscenti) with rose-colored gills growing from that nifty little egg cup.

A quick check in a couple of field guides, and I was certain.2

V. bombycina is a saprobe, which means it feeds on already dead stuff. So, why do we see it growing out of the side of a very-much-alive tree? Probably because the tree has a rot, and this mushroom is growing on the rotten wood inside the tree. Mushrooms are like that. One fungus kills the host, another fungus eats the dead host, and those fungi are eaten, in turn, by other fungi.

Europe has many of the same fungi as North America, and this fungus is a good example. By going to the amazing website Rogers Mushrooms and looking through the submissions by European photographers, I learned, courtesy of one Lorand Bartho, that the Hungarians call it Oriás bocskorosgomba.

And that about says it all.

1 Actually, I do have friends in Quebec!. Morever, the Association forestière des Cantons de l’Est publishes some amazing natural history books, which you can order from their website.  However, fair warning, these books are in French.

2 For Field Guides to the Mushrooms I prefer Dr. Orson K. Miller’s new book North American Mushrooms: A Field Guide to Edible and Inedible Fungi (Falconguide) . For this particular region, I think that Mushrooms of Northeastern North Americais pretty hard to beat.

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