Monday, November 3, 2014

Mushrooms, mushrooms, mushrooms!

Here in the Pacific Northwest, October is a great month to find wild mushrooms in the woods.  They are everywhere!  All kinds!  It is nearing the end of the mushroom season, and we have had record rains this month, so some of the mushrooms are starting to decompose, but there are still many to harvest.

Identifying mushrooms is not an easy task for me.  I wish I had an expert mycologist to accompany me on my treks in the woods.  There are so many species, and mushrooms take on different characteristics as they mature and begin to decompose.  I have a few books to help with identification, but even then I sometimes cannot find a picture or details that match.  A mushroom expert may know immediately, but not me. So here I am giving it my best guess.  I am open to comments and help in identification. 

At first I thought this mushroom might be Echinodontium tinctorium, also known as "Indian Paint Fungus," which was used as a source of dye by the Pacific Northwest Indians, however it might be a Phaeolus schweinitzii, also known as "The Dye Polypore" or "Velvet-top Fungus", way past its prime.  The mushroom I found was growing about 6 feet up on a downed fir tree.  It was blackish in color, almost purple, with streaks of deep, rusty orange running through it.  This is a single mushroom shown in the picture.  The chunk on the right is broken off from the main mushroom body on the left.

Echinodontium tinctorium upper side -  found 10/2014

Echinodontium tinctorium under side - found 10/2014
According to the book, "The Rainbow Beneath My Feet, A Mushroom Dyer's Field Guide," by Arleen Rainis Bessette & Alan E. Bessette, The Echinodontium tinctorium yields light pinkish orange with no mordant, orange-red with alum, pinkish brown with copper, and a grayish purple with iron, while the Phaeolus schweinitzii yields bright yellows.  Here is what I got using alum on recycled cashmere yarn--a deep, brassy-orange in the first bath and a yellow-gold in the second bath. I was surprised at the depth of color from just this one mushroom.
Echinodontium tinctorium - alum mordant (1st & 2nd bath)

This mushroom may be Innonotus Tomentosus, a ploypore growing on decayed wood on the end of a logging spur.   Alum mordant on wool yarn yielded a light tan color, a little deeper color than the picture indicates.  The shade and depth of color will often depend on the ratio of mushroom to fiber. More mushrooms might have yielded a deeper shade of color. 
Innonotus Tomentosus, upper side - found 10/2014
Innonotus Tomentosus, underside - found 20/2014
Innonotus Tomentosus - alum mordant

This mushroom is Trametes versicolor, which is said to yield blue with alum, light green with copper, and a greenish-blue with iron.  I found only a couple of these mushrooms, and got a pale cream using alum mordant.  I would probably need a lot more mushrooms to get blue.  Even though some mushrooms may yield very little color, it is useful to keep a record so that you know which mushrooms you may need to gather more of, use different mordants with, or just may not want to try again.
Trametes versicolor upper side - found 10/2014

Trametes versicolor - alum mordant

Hypomyces lactifluorum, the "Lobster Mushroom," is my favorite dye mushroom.  It is a deep orange, funnel-shaped mushroom, actually a parasite growing over a host mushroom.  The meat of this mushroom is white, so I always peel the orange layer from the outside and use that in my dye pot.  The Lobster Mushroom yields pinkish-orange colors with alum mordant, but when you shift the pH you can get beautiful wine and magenta colors.  This is achieved by adding 1-2 tsps of washing soda to the dye bath.  An addition of a pinch of iron will shift the magenta to more purple shades.
Hypomyces lactifluorum - found 10/2014
Hypomyces lactifluorum - alum with washing soda, 1st & 2nd baths
Hypomyces lactifluorum -alum, washing soda, pinch of iron, 3rd & 4th baths

Psalliota (agaricus) campestris or "Meadow Mushroom" were found growing in my grassy side yard.  When young, the gills are a pale pink, becoming a dusky brownish-pink as they mature, finally becoming a coffee brown, then black as they begin to decompose.  A few years ago I tried dyeing with these mushroom on a very small hank of wool yarn and got a lovely light pink.  This year, with the handful of mushrooms shown in the picture, I tried dyeing about 2 ounces of alum-mordanted wool and got only a very pale cream color.
Psalliota campestris - found 10/2014
Psalliota campestris under side - found 10/2014
Psalliota campestris - alum mordant

This is the first time I have ever seen a Lycoperdales or"puffball" mushroom.  I am not sure of the species.  This mushroom feels like an empty paper sac.  It appears very delicate, but the shell is actually pretty tough.  The peridium or outer wall ruptures at the top revealing the powdery spore mass inside.  The spore mass in this mushroom was a dark brown.  Again, not much color from this mushroom, just a pale cream.
Lycoperdales (The stalked Puffball) - found 10/2014
Lycoperdales (The stalked Puffball) - found 10/2014
Lycoperdales (The Stalked Puffball) - alum mordant

The Hypholoma fasciculare is a lemon or sulfur yellow, gilled mushroom.  The caps as well as the stems are yellowish.  The gills are yellow when the mushrooms are young, but turn a dark olive green color as they mature.  The first batch I found were quite young and yielded a pale yellow-tan color.  The next batch of mushrooms were mature, some quite decayed.  They yielded a deeper golden-yellow shade.
Hypholoma fasciculare - found 10/2014

Hypholoma fasciculare - found 10/2014

Hypholoma fasciculare (young) - alum mordant

Hypholoma fasciculare (mature) -  found 10/2014
Hypholoma fasciculare (mature-decaying) - found 10/2014
Hypholoma fasciculare (mature) - alum mordant

This mushroom may be a Tapinella atrotomentosa (Paxillus atrotomentosa).  I found this single mushroom growing out of the ground in a grassy area at the end of a logging spur.  It was semi-decayed and half-eaten by bugs, but I brought it home to see if it would yield any color.  With alum mordant, it gave a tan color with a hint of olive which doesn't show well in the photo.
Tapinella atrotomentosa upper side - found 10/2014

Tapinella atrotomentosa under side - found 10/2014
Tapinella atrotomentosa - alum mordant


  1. Thank you for that post. I am hugely interested in mushrooms for colour and have Myriam Rice's book as well as the Rainbow... My problem is that there are so few mushroom species that grow here so it's a treat to read about your experiments.

    1. I am happy you found this post interesting, Ambra. I guess having lots of mushrooms is one of the benefits of living on the edge of a rain forest. We had 3" of rain yesterday!

  2. Your photos are really clear. I almost think I might be able to identify the fungi myself - only I would be bound to get it wrong. Thanks very much for such a helpful and encouraging post.

    1. Thanks, Fran. My tendency is to come home, take a few pictures, then throw the mushrooms in a dye pot before I have looked them up in one of my books. Not good! I did that with the Trametes versicolor and wish I had know what it was first. It is the only one I have ever found. I would have taken greater care with it had I known what it was. I would have loved to have gotten that blue!

  3. Amazing colours, love the purple.

    1. The purple is my favorite, too, Debbie. Amazing how a little washing soda will shift that color to wine, and a pinch of iron to purple! Who would ever think that you could get such colors from a bright orange mushroom?

  4. Very nice posting, thank you! You are right that it is good to keep records even if you don't get any spectacular color, maybe next time you will. We don't have lobster mushrooms here, they give amazing color. About Trametes versicolor, I think it needs alkaline boiling like tooth fungi to give the blues, but I don't know for sure because I have never found it here. it could grow here but it is very rare.

    1. Thank you, Leena, for your tip on the Trametes versicolor. I will do more research on that. I hope to find another one, someday!