Velvet Shank

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These are big mushrooms growing on a large beech branch that came down a few years back. Their size, habitat and slimy crème brûlée appearance when fresh or wet suggests they are probably Velvet Shanks (Flammulina velutipes).  They should have a white spore print but we didn’t take a specimen home to test – too slimy, you can see the brown liquid oozing from the gills in the pictures below. It’s also called the winter mushroom because it can withstand cold better than most fruiting bodies and can be found when there is little else to amuse the myco-curious.

Believe it or not, the ‘enoki mushroom’ often found in posh shops is a cultivated form though it looks nothing like the wild mushroom. Mushroom Expert offers another fascinating factoid. Apparently velutipes flew on the Space Shuttle Columbia to find out how it would handle low gravity. Like many wood-inhabiting mushrooms, Flammulina velutipes typically bends its stem near the base, then grows straight up, resulting in a cap that is more or less parallel to the ground–presumably so that spores will fall easily from the gills. Aboard the space shuttle, however, the mushrooms got confused, growing out of a simulated tree trunk at all angles. In other words, they lost their balance. What a surprise.

Our Velvet Shanks are edible but we’d never eat them or any other of our wood’s fungi because (a) its wrong to eat your house guests and (b) we don’t want to die. Renowned expert Tom Volk offers this terrifying warning. Here’s the scenario: Sometimes you’re lucky (or skilled) and find lots of these edible Armillaria and Flammulina. You find so many that picking them becomes more of a chore than a pleasure. You stop paying attention to every mushroom you place in your basket. You accidentally cut off a Galerina or two or more and place them in with the edible mushrooms. You’re so tired and hungry when you get home that you just dump your mushrooms into a skillet and fry them up. You accidentally eat some Galerina. Two or three days later you die. 

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