Technically Hypomyces is a parasite of other mushrooms, turning them into lobster mushrooms. The whole thing is called the lobster mushroom because of its red "shell" on the outside with white inside, much like cutting open a lobster, as shown to the left in my delicious dinner last August at the Humboldt Field Research Institute, Eagle Hill, Maine , where I taught a class on basidiomycetes. However, the red crust on the outside is the stromatic sterile tissue of the ascomycete Hypomyces , and the white flesh on the inside is the flesh of a basidiomycete mushroom, presumably a Russula or Lactarius more on this later. There are a number of other fungi that get their nutrition directly from other fungi, parasitizing them. Most of the spectacular ones parasitize the fruiting body of the host, but there are likely many more like Trichoderma that just parasitize the vegetative mycelium.
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Hypomyces lactifluorum A hat full of lobsters! You can see why this one is called lobster mushroom. It has a color similar to cooked lobster meat or lobster shell and can have a seafood-like aroma when cooking. It is actually an example of a mold attacking a mushroom. Hypomyces lactifluorum attacks and parasitizes Lactarius piperatus or Russula brevipes and covers the entire fruit body with an orange skin.
Lactarius piperatus has a peppery flavor that is improved by Hypomyces. Russula, which is very crumbly, becomes dense and less breakable. Cap pileus Irregular often resembling the shape of the mushroom it attacks. Russula and Lactarius can develop a concave cap and the lobster may look somewhat like that.
It can seriously deform the shape though and be very irregular. There are often cracks in the surface. The caps often collect dirt as they come out of the ground and cleaning them can be difficult.
If the cap is cracked and dirt has collected in the cracks, it can rapidly spoil. One should not despair as it can be put to other good uses such as dyeing. Gills None Stem stipe Usually there is little to no stem. Flesh is white or slightly orangey white and quite dense Spores Colorless and difficult to collect. When and where to find them ecology These can be found under a variety of trees but hemlock is a good candidate. September and October seem to be the months when most will be found but they can appear as early as July.
Any place where Lactarius, an exceedingly common mushroom that is white with a concave cap, grows, is a possibility. They are very noticeable. Nothing else looks remotely like them. Preparation: Lobster mushrooms can be highly variable in their flavor characteristics. Nice fresh specimens that are completely white on the interior are best. They can tend to have brown spots that should be trimmed off though. Plain preparation is a good choice. Clean young specimens will often have a seafood odor when you cook them that is a natural with lobster, crab, or other seafood.
The flavor and aroma characteristics are ephemeral so be sure not overcook or the aroma will be lost. Tempura frying is very pleasant as well. Often they are delicious but older specimens can be somewhat mealy. Lobsters are a white wine mushroom. Mixing and matching with foods normally associated with white wine is best. Comments It has been postulated in some mushroom field guides that Hypomyces could attack a poisonous mushroom such as an amanita causing poisoning. There does not seem to be a lot of actual evidence of this.
People have eaten this one for hundreds of years with few known incidents. As always, if you have never eaten a particular type of mushroom, try a small amount first. This one can be very choice or not so good in my experience. Often, older specimens can get rot spots from dirt sitting on the top or in crevices of the cap and start to smell bad.
You could break it or slice it up and distribute it in locations where Russulas and Lactarius grow and hope for the best. Lobsters can be used for dyeing wool, some fabrics, or paper and will yield a cinnamon pink to red color with wool when ammonia is used as a mordant. I did not find many last year. Those I did find were not that good. They get dirty and moldy with rot spots if they are a bit old.
I took these and cut them up and spread them about where Lactarius and Russula species grow on my property.
Lobster Mushroom (Hypomyces lactifluorum): Identification & Info
This union creates the sought-after lobster mushroom. Photo by Herbert Baker. Hypomyces lactifluorum is an unmistakable, sought after mycological find I have yet to encounter this calendar year. I have found other closely related Hypomyces species, but not the red-orange specimen commonly known as the lobster mushroom. Eventually it forms a red-orange crust all over its host, resembling a shell of a cooked lobster.
Your path towards ecological understanding
The shell is a parasitic fungus called Hypomyces lactifluorum. The host mushroom is always some species of either Russula or Lactarius. The two most common hosts, by far, are Russula brevipes and Lactarius piperatus though the latter may actually be a group of very similar species. In fact, L. There is, in fact, some evidence to suggest that lobster mushroom does not biochemically resemble the host species; it is not that the host simply has a parasitic crust on it, for while the mushroom is crusty, the interior is also a mix of tissue from the two species, and the parasite even radically alters the biochemistry of the host tissue that remains [iii].