October Mushroom Week, day four: The Fascinating Lobster Mushroom

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Lobster Mushroom

The Lobster Mushroom (Hypomyces lactifluorum) is a parasite. It needs a host, usually Russula or Lactarius. It covers the host with pimply, orange (orange-red, purple-red, sometimes yellow-red) tissue. It transforms the host mushroom into a firm, thick-gilled fungus.

We found this one, enveloping a Russula brevipes (short-stemmed Russula) along the Drift Creek Falls Trail last weekend. After looking up the Russula, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for it. Not because it had a parasite, but because it is much hated.

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Russula brevipes

The broad cap pushes up the duff in a way that makes Bolete-lovers salivate. When they lift the needles and leaves to find a plain old, not-so-yummy Russula, their disappointment leads them to label the poor little brevipes “mundane”, “tedious”, even “vulgar”.

I found the common mushrooms beautiful with creamy gills and dirty, broad convex cap and curled under margins.  They were fun to discover poking up from under the fir needles. But they were dazzling in their red Hypomyces lactifluorum armor. Delicious, too.

I get just about all my information about species and identification from Mushrooms Demystified (Arora, 1979). General mushroom knowledge from Mycelium Running (Stamets, 2005).

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