Good evening, friends and Happy Columbus and Indigenous’ Peoples Day - whichever you celebrate. Unfortunately, it appears my employer celebrates neither because I’m writing this from work - what the heck is that?
This week’s mushroom is the Chicken Fat mushroom (Suillus americanus). I found a huge flush of these mushrooms this past Wednesday underneath a white pine (Pinus strobus) at Manitou. There truly aren’t enough days of the week to document all the fall mushrooms that are popping right now, but as a bonus I’ll include a few pictures to highlight some of my favorite finds so far. This week’s publication is also the three year anniversary which is neat, but before we get into that let’s learn about this slimy little mushroom that appears by the dozen.
The mushroom gets the quirky common name because it is yellow, soft, and slimy like chicken fat. The mushroom is edible but not considered “choice”. Ciara chopped and fried up a couple of these slippery little suckers but neither of us found them too appealing. The taste was neutral but it was really the texture which was less than desirable. I’m more of a crunchy guy when it comes to texture and this was slimy and gooey. The late, great mycologist Tom Volk compares them to snails and that checks out. A tough swallow.
Fascinatingly, people have reported allergic reactions from just handling these mushrooms. There is a study (Reference 2) on an individual that suffered contact dermatitis while handling five different species of Suillus, including S. americanus. The reaction comes on a day or two after contact but fortunately it’s not terribly severe. The symptoms dissipate after a week without any special treatment.
This directly contradicts the “you can safely handle any mushroom” mantra that I confidently spew on walks. Always good to know that just when we’re comfortable and think there’s an absolute rule in mycology, we go home with swollen, red, and itchy fingers. To quote my friend Eric who quotes Socrates, “The only thing that I know is that I know nothing”.
The mushroom also goes by the moniker “white pine mushroom” because they grow mycorrhizally (symbiotically) with white pines. The fungus actually grows with pines that produce their needles in clusters of five - this includes western white pine, Swiss pine, and a couple others. That specific symbiosis is an important identifying characteristic, along with the reddish spots on the cap and a hollow stipe (stem). The cap, when fresh, has a distinct mucilage - viscous secretion - that is found throughout Suillus species and could potentially be cause of the allergic reaction.
The fungus grows throughout eastern and western North America - always near partner pines - but also in parts of Europe and Asia where other five-needled pines occur. The mushrooms pop up late summer through early fall in the northern hemisphere with observations on iNaturalist peaking in September. As alluded to in the introduction, when these mushrooms pop they fruit gregariously around the base of the partner pines and their numbers can reach into the hundreds.
Other Autumnal mushrooms
This upcoming weekend we’ve got back to back mushroom activities. On Saturday at 10AM I’m leading a mushroom walk in Stamford, CT for the Stamford Land Conservation Trust. We’ll meet at the end of Mill Stream Road.
The next day, Sunday, I’m presenting on lichen at the New York Mycological Society’s Fungus Festival on Randall’s Island. My presentation is at 1pm but I’ll be mc’ing at the presenter’s tent throughout the day so come say hi :). More info here.
3 Year Anniversary
This week’s newsletter marks the three year anniversary of Mushroom Monday. Three years and we haven’t missed a week. Sure, there was a Toadstool Tuesday stretch for a bit there, but we’re at more than 150 straight weeks of learning different mushrooms. That probably won’t continue, but it’s definitely been a good run from the inception three years ago this Wednesday.
I went from emailing coworkers in the break room as a way to kind of avoid work until now where I stay up later than I’d like on the worst work day of the week in the hopes that someone (myself included) might learn something. All for the love of the game. I’ll probably start mixing in weeks off, but that’ll only be to help the long-term longevity of the publication. Love you all and thank you so much (okay, mush) for reading,
Kuo, M. (2022, August). Suillus americanus. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/suillus_americanus.html
Bruhn JN, Soderberg MD. Allergic contact dermatitis caused by mushrooms. A case report and literature review. Mycopathologia. 1991 Sep;115(3):191-5. doi: 10.1007/BF00462225. PMID: 1749402.