Eddie Bolero sent these pictures of Ink Caps (Coprinopsis atramentaria) or a closely related Coprinopsis that he found growing on the remains of a decaying stump in the Sierra Vista area. He reports they were delicious. The veil was rather prominent on the younger specimens, with relatively attenuated striation of the cap and a ring-like flange on the stem, and Eddie thinks it is the crassivelata variety of C. atramentaria. I don’t have enough experience with the ink caps to confirm this.
Arizona mushroom foraging in the late fall is not a highly productive endeavor, but once in a while you can serendipitously discover some delicacies in the lower elevations. In addition to inky caps, you might get lucky with oyster mushrooms, Podaxis pistillaris, or Agaricus bitorquis. It’s definitely worth keeping an eye out for these as you go out hiking and hunting over the next few months in the lower, warmer parts of the state.
The Ink Cap can appear in the spring and early summer, too. If you recall, it was also the first edible species found in our state in 2014, when Mike Dechter happened upon a patch in Flagstaff in May. A sad commentary on our lack of spring morels this year, but the already legendary Fall 2014 fire-morel flush more than made up for it.
The genus Coprinus used to contain all types of conical, dark-gilled “coprinoid” mushrooms that rapidly degenerated into dark inky liquid. This is called deliquescence. Eddie’s life-cycle photo below shows this phenomenon starting to take place in some of the older specimens he collected. They are no longer a good edible once this begins.
Recently, DNA analysis of the coprinoid mushrooms found them to be polyphyletic. This means they have superficially similar characteristics, but are not close relatives that inherited the mechanism of deliquescent spore production from a common ancestor. This trait was actually arrived at by convergent evolution, like the fins of a fish and the flukes of a whale. In fact, we now know the coprinoids are not only members of the same genus, but are not even in the same family. Therefore, they have been divided into three genera: the original Coprinus, which now contains only the Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus) and its near relatives; Coprinellus, which contains the Mica Caps (Coprinellus micaceus) and their close relatives, and Coprinopsis, the true Ink Caps like Coprinopsis atramentaria that are the topic of this post.
All of the coprinoid mushrooms are edible, and many are excellent. However, you must remember that C. atramentaria, also known as the “Tippler’s Bane”, produces seriously unpleasant interactions with ethanol. It contains a compound called coprine, which is chemically related to disulfiram (Antabuse), a pharmaceutical that is commonly prescribed to alcoholics to help them avoid drinking. Coprine blocks the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase, which breaks down acetaldehyde into acetic acid to be excreted by the kidneys, and causes toxic levels of acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, and other nasty metabolites to accumulate in the bloodstream.
If you unwisely combine this mushroom with booze, it will give you the worst hangover you ever had, and it will last for a lot longer than the ordinary kind. It won’t kill you, but like many other toxic mushrooms, it may make you wish you were dead.
I would also avoid alcohol if you’re eating Mica Caps or other Coprinellus. Even though they do not contain coprine, Coprinellus can be challenging to distinguish from the true ink caps of Coprinopsis.
On the other hand, the easily identifiable Shaggy Manes of Coprinus are definitely safe to consume with alcohol, outdated rules of thumb notwithstanding. I have done it several times, including a fairly heroic amount of shaggy manes and red wine at a memorable dinner with Ed Coleman and Laurie Herring.
As always, I appreciate your photographs and other contributions to this blog. Please let us know if you find or do anything of interest to your fellow fungus fans in Arizona. See you at the winter potluck!