Saturday, April 16, 2011

Spring Ephemerals and Black Condoms

Time to catch up on posts that should have gone up before vacation. I was hunting for early mushrooms and, while I didn't find the morels I sought, I found some lovely flowers. The spring ephemerals are here and gone in the blink of an eye so it's always exciting to find them just as they're coming up. I think my favorite one has to be the trout lily.

I know I've identified this flower before but the name is escaping me at the moment, so we'll just call it pretty white flower.

Although I came across several common shelf fungi on tree branches, I didn't find anything coming up out of the ground.

I came back with an empty basket but resolved to make frequent forays over the next month to check out my favorite mushroom spots. The appearance of the ephemerals often coincides with morel season, so if the nighttime temps are warm enough and there's a decent amount of rain, the conditions would be conducive for morels. 

Back to more mundane chores, the next morning I was shoveling manure and straw out of the barn and onto our tower of poop when I stopped short of unleashing the first round of doots. I did a very cartoon-y double take as my brain tried desperately to process what appeared to be a bunch of small black condoms on the manure pile. A closer look revealed that they were some sort of mushroom. They just happened to look very much like little black condoms on a white stem (think something akin to a mung bean sprout). I came back a couple hours later to take some pictures but they were already gone. Talk about ephemerals.

The next day, I looked for them in the same spot and sure enough, there they were. Only this time, I was a little earlier and saw that they look quite different when they first come up--more of a grey parasol that hasn't opened fully. I took some back to the house immediately to grab some photos, lamenting the fact that this day's specimens weren't nearly as large, so they didn't look quite so condom-like. 

As the parasol opens, the cap flattens out and the edges curl up, creating the rolled up edge that caught my eye initially.

These little guys flopped over before I could get the picture (insert your own joke here).

I searched my mushroom field guides but couldn't find a match (I think because I was looking for them as they appear in the late stages of decay). My friend Jason had just given me an old Time-Life style book on mushrooms which he'd found in a thrift store. Although it didn't have a wide variety of mushrooms, it did have great pictures--including one very similar to what I had found. That helped me narrow it down. I still don't know the exact variety but these fungi seem to be part of a group of mushrooms known as inky caps. If you touch the cap, you'll know why. The caps dissolve completely into an ink-like liquid. It stains your skin and, from what I've read, does work as a good substitute for ink. If you're ever in need of ink and happen to be near these 'shrooms, have at it. And if these are the kind I think they are, don't eat them! Not that they look very appetizing anyway, but they are toxic. Some variety of inky caps have an interesting toxin which mimics Antabuse. If you consume alcohol within a few days of ingesting the mushroom, you will experience a host of unpleasant effects (vomiting, tachycardia, sweating, headache, etc.) similar to what would occur if you were taking the drug Antabuse. I don't recommend inky caps as a way to kick the alcohol habit. Or as a prophylactic for that matter.

OK, now I'm going to post this, sit back, and wait to see what kind of interesting traffic comes to this blog as people search for "black condoms."


  1. I love eating mushrooms! I'm a vegetarian, and mushrooms are great meat substitutes. I'd eat anything with stuff mushrooms in it.

    Mack Shepperson

  2. Found the same inky caps in rice straw in the duck pen this morning. Under the straw, before they emerge, their heads look like slime-coated rabbit turds. The stalks are hollow, translucent pure white, and split into confetti-like curls when trampled. The open caps rapidly dissolve into an inky mush. Didn't have any mature enough for the edges of a fully open cap to curl up. That would have been even more disturbing to see in the duck pen. It's a bit of a shock the first time.