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November's (2009) mushroom is...
the Honey (armillariella mellea complex)

HoneyStumpers - armillariella mellea complex

Honey mushrooms are a complex of a number of species of mushrooms (at least 9 species and possibly as many as 11); most of which cannot be distinguished without microscopic analysis. These frequently clustered mushrooms are known locally as stumpers or stumpies.  The cluster can be very large; last year in about 20 minutes, I picked over ten pound of honeys from two stumps about 4 feet apart.  Honey mushrooms are very variable in shape, color, wood preference (both conifers and deciduous trees) and other features.  The name honey mushroom refers to the color of the cap which can take on all of the varied colors of natural honey.  This mushroom is a major parasite of trees.

Honey mushrooms have round caps when they are young that flatten out as they mature.  They have a partial veil that ranges from very substantial forming a substantial ring as the mushroom opens to a very unsubstantial cobwebby veil that leaves ring zone remnants on the stalk.  The ring zone remnant of the type that have a cortina (cobwebby veil) will never be stained rusty brown like the ring remnants on a Cortinarius species as the spore print of the honey mushroom is white.  The mushrooms cluster so tightly that one can often find spore prints on mushrooms that grow lower in the clusters.  The color of the cap varies from honey yellow to pinkish brown to brown. The cap surface is sticky to slippery. The stalk is somewhat fibrous; many mushroom hunters only collect the caps leaving the stalks behind.  Stalks are generally colored like the caps, they are one to six inches long and ½ to 1 ½ inches thick.  Blackish “shoestring” (rhizomorphs) are attached to the base of the stalk.  The root-like rhizomorphs glow in the dark creating the phenomenon known as foxfire.

Honey Honey mushrooms - armillariella mellea

Honey mushrooms have a strong flavor suitable in many mushroom dishes.  They are very popular worldwide being sought avidly by many mushroom hunters.  They do need to be cooked thoroughly as they are toxic when raw.  Some hunters parboil the mushroom in one to several changes of water.  I don’t believe such treatment is necessary if one is careful to thoroughly cook these mushrooms.  Honey mushrooms grow all around the world in the Northern hemisphere where conditions and substrate are right and are picked and favored as edibles by many cultures.  Since these mushrooms have caused gastro-intestinal upset in some people even when thoroughly cooked, it is best to sample a small amount of the mushroom the first time you try them.  Since the species are so hard to identify, it is best to go easy whenever they are found in a new location. 

Honey Stumpies - armillariella mellea

There are a fair number of look-alikes so it is important to learn this mushroom from knowledgeable hunters.  The deadly Galerina autumnalis (whose poison is the same as the deadly Aminitas) is smaller and has a brown spore print.  There are inedible Pholiotas which resemble honey mushrooms but they have a brown spore print.  The Big Laughing Gym mushroom (Gymnopilus spectabilis), which is poisonous (hallucinogenic), is more orange colored with an rusty brownish spore print.  Luckily one can often find mushroom in the clustered honeys that have a white spore print on their cap.