Mushroom of the Month
Shaggy mane: Coprinus comatus
Shaggy manes are the best known of the species in the genus Coprinus: the inky caps. Shaggy manes are often found in large numbers in urban and suburban settings: roadsides, lawns, parks, etc. They can be found in forests but are more common on disturbed ground. Despite the fact that the mature mushrooms are rather fragile, the buttons grow with so much hydraulic pressure that they have been known to break through asphalt driveways. The ink, that results as they auto-digest at the moving margin of the cap where spores are being dropped, was used in colonial times as writing ink. In England, their common name is lawyer’s wigs.
Shaggy manes have cylindrical white capes covered with light reddish-brown scales. The caps tend to have a brownish center sometimes forming an umbo. The caps are one to two inches wide and 2 to 6 inches tall. Like most of the inky caps, mature, expanded specimens soon turn black and inky with the change gradually spreading from the margin of the cap to the apex; within 24 to 48 hours of fruiting, the entire cap will have liquefied away. The white gills are free and rather crowded. The spore prints are black. The white, hollow stems are 2 to 8 inches long and ½ to ¾ inches wide. Young specimens will have a partial veil that leaves a ring on the lower part of the stem; the ring is often lost as the mushrooms mature. The taste and the odor are pleasant. They are sometimes found in the spring but are more common from July through November.
Shaggy manes are an excellent edible. They have a relatively unique delicate flavor. The caps liquefy rapidly so they must be cooked shortly after picking. For cooking, I only collect button mushrooms, mushrooms with an intact partial veil. The opened mushrooms blacken and liquefy so quickly that only the buttons are worth picking. Even with the buttons, careful collecting and gentle handling are necessary. The flavor goes well with dairy dishes, soups, pastas, and poultry. They are good breaded and deep-fried, I occasionally prepare them by splitting longitudinally, adding a dab of butter, and broiling until just beginning to brown. I use shaggy manes together with small puffballs (Lycoperdon pyriforme and/or L. perlatum) in making a cream of mushroom soup.