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A handsome and edible Thai mushroom

March 31, 2011

As predicted, many mushrooms emerged two months earlier than usual due to the early rains, an effect of a natural temperature oscillation in the Pacific Ocean called La Niña (cooler than normal). What causes this variation is debated. The first mushrooms to respond, was the fairy ring mushroom (Marasmius oreades). This small yellow mushroom is common in lawns and meadows, and like in Sweden, Esan people eat it with great appetite.

Little brittle ink caps (Coprinus spp) and wild relatives of the common white button mushroom (Agaricus sp.) emerged at Dokmai Garden too.

A common garden mushroom in the rainy season is the poisonous green-spored parasol (Chlorophyllum molybdites). This cosmopolitan species resembles the delicious parasol mushroom (Macrolepiota procera) very much, but the green-spored parasol has gills with a greenish tinge. It grows in lawns or composts, but we have not seen it during these early rains.

When I parked the car in the dark two days ago I saw a handsome cluster of noble white mushrooms on the lawn. This was the edible Macrocybe crassa. The Esan Seehamongkol family who runs Dokmai Garden calls it ‘hed ka sum’, meaning ‘double leg mushroom’, alluding to the mighty stipe. Our Karen and northern Thai workers did not want to eat the mushroom when offered, and so they have no name for it. Other Thai names derived from Thai mycological literature is ‘jann’,  ‘tin rat’ (‘rhinocero’s foot’) and ‘ta tao kao’ (literally ‘white turtle liver’, to differentiate it from the ordinary ‘turtle liver’, i.e. the dark and fat mango bolete, Phlebopus portentosus). The scientific genus name Macrocybe means ‘big head’ and crassa means ‘thick, fat, fleshy or dense’, both names referring to the massive and firm cap. I googled around to find an English name, but failed. We therefore introduce the English name ‘rhinofoot’ since it is descriptive, based on an already existing Thai name, alludes to the tropics, and commemorates an extinct Thai mammal (Javan rhinoceros).

The rhinofoot is a tropical species, so it is not included in European or North American mushroom floras, nor in the book on Yunnanese market mushrooms. I have never seen it for sale in the markets anywhere in Thailand. Ketsanee explained that it can not be grown (but there are experimental efforts in Thailand) and it is such a treasure the finder would rather treat his family than cash it.

As to cooking, you can use the rhinofoot as a substitute for the oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus sp). Khun Nived Seehamongkol made a mushroom soup containing water, ant larvae, salt, fish sauce and lemony manglak basil (Ocimum americanum, Lamiaceae). Personally I prefer frying mushrooms with salt and then pour them on toast.

The rhinofoot (Macrocybe crassa) usually grows in clusters, often around stumps or buried wood (it is a decomposing mushroom). The white cap is firm, thick, undulating, 5-30 cm in diameter. The cap is smooth, not scaly as in Lentinus squarrosulus, another common white mushroom on wood. The gills are attached, not running down the stipe like in oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus spp.). The gills remain pale, not turning pink or brown as in button mushrooms (Agaricus) or the fleshy brown-spored Agrocybe cylindracea, another early and edible Dokmai Garden mushroom. The broad stipe is more than 3 cm in diameter.  It has no ring (unlike an Amanita) and no volva (unlike a Volvariella, paddy straw mushroom). The fragrance and flavour is weak but agreeable. Another ringless, white-spored, large, common and edible mushroom clustered in garden lawns is the cosmopolitan ‘fried chicken mushroom’ (Lyophyllum decastes). Usually this species has a dark cap (grey or brown), not whitish like in the rhinofoot.

Warning: some mushrooms are deadly! Do not eat any mushroom without knowing yourself what you are doing. You can not blame the vendor or donor if poisoned, because sometimes they have no clue themselves what they have picked. People without experience can mix up any mushrooms, and an illustrated mushroom flora just covers a fraction of what is out there.

Eric Danell

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