July 25, 2022
Good evening, friends,
This week’s mushroom is Lactifluus piperatus, commonly known as the peppery milkcap or, by a much more suave pseudonym, blancaccio. This mushroom was found yesterday at the Ashokan Center in Olivebridge, NY during the For the Love of Fungi event. I tried to play it cool all day and hang around the main stage/vendors, helping out where I can, and reassuring myself that it was too dry in the forest to find any sweet shrooms. Well, as I’m quite often reminded, I know nothing.
An intrepid group of fungophiles, led by John Michelotti of Catskill Fungi, set out late in the afternoon with the impression from prior walks that conditions were less than stellar. Undaunted, we strode forth in the face of dry soil and ninety degree heat. Not only did we, specifically Jackie, find the mushroom featured below, but we ended up with a bounty of mushrooms which we’ll marvel at later.
This mushroom is edible, although it’s not sought out by most. As suggested by the species epithet, piperatus, this mushroom has a peppery hot taste that is also a key feature for identification. When dried, it can be sprinkled on foods and used as a seasoning in the same way you might use crushed red pepper flakes. Contrary to the peppery taste, it has (in my opinion) a rather sweet aroma. However, when I passed it to Gabriela she described the scent as slightly “urinaceous” (urine-like) which demonstrates the subjective quality of the sense of smell.
Another characteristic trait of Lactarius and Lactifluus mushrooms is shown in the image above. When punctured or injured, the mushroom exudes a “latex” – a milky substance – that is apparently a defense mechanism to deter insect foraging. The amount of latex produced depends on the species, the age, and the environmental conditions when the mushroom is found (it was quite dry so I was only able to coax out a few drops of latex).
Additionally, metabolites extracted from this mushroom – specifically auxin, a growth hormone in plants – were used to germinate horse chestnut trees (Aesculus) in a 1988 experiment. The overall number of seedlings germinated with mushroom metabolites decreased relative to the control, but the saplings that did grow were greener and had more robust root systems (Reference 3). The mushroom also has a lot of novel compounds that could potentially have medicinal value, but for the sake of brevity just check out Reference 4 if you’re interested.
L. piperatus is mycorrhizal, forming a mutualistic relationship with tree roots. The tree sends sugars produced by photosynthesis down to its roots, which are either wrapped in or penetrated by the fungus’s mycelium, in exchange for nutrients and water the fungus finds in the environment. It is thought that L. piperatus is mycorrhizal with hardwoods, specifically oaks and beeches, however this mushroom was found near hemlock and birch. It appears that L. piperatus could comprise a species complex where several genetically distinct fungi – indistinguishable to the naked eye – are lumped under a singular species name.
The mushroom is found in eastern North America and temperate forests in Europe across into Asia. It grows in the summer as a solitary specimen like this lone soldier, or in dense troops consisting of multiple mushrooms. The gills are decurrent, running down the stipe, and the spores are white. A yellowish brown discoloring, seen on the cap below, tends to appear with age.
For the Love of Fungi
Big shoutout to Luke and Kaya for hosting the first annual For the Love of Fungi event to help bring together fungal folks not only in and around eastern New York, but also as far out as Guatemala (check out Jasper and Fungi Academy). Smiles abounded and cultural mycelium was connected. It was a wonderful event and it’ll hopefully only grow and get even more enriching in the years to come. Now let’s look at some of these fungal finds:
Yellow Patches aka Amanita Flavoconia
Gilled Bolete (Phylloporus species)
Maybe a Ruby Bolete (Hortiboletus rubellus) – the fuzzy cap led to a fuzzy focus.
Hedgehog Mushroom (Hydnum repandum)
We also found two mycoheterotrophs, or plants that don’t photosynthesize and instead rely on a relationship with fungal mycelium for nutrients. Below is Monotropa hypopitys, commonly known as pinesap.
Below is a comparison of pinesap, on the right, with the more common ghost pipe, Monotropa Uniflora, on the left. Notice the whiter ghost pipe has one flower, hence the species name Uniflora, where as the pinesap has several flowers.
Pinesap also typically takes on a deeper shade of red and we were speculating that this specimen could have a genetic variation that makes the plant lighter in hue. I also heard that the plant will adopt the color of the tree that produced the nutrients it is receiving through the mycelium – so a pine tree photosynthesizes sugars, trades it to mycelium for nutrients like water and/or phosphorus, and then this mycoheterotroph pinesap receives (or steals?) these pine sugars and takes on the pigment contained in the sugars. Who knows. It’s a wild world we inhabit.
This Thursday I’ll be at the Alchemist’s Kitchen with Zach Sokol discussing cultivation and applications of different medicinal mushrooms. More info and tickets here.
New moon on Wednesday (I was born on a new moon – the last fun fact of the evening),
1) Kuo, M. (2011, March). Lactarius piperatus. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/lactarius_piperatus.html