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The Amateur Mycologist #10 - Coprinus comatus - The Shaggy Mane

The Amateur Mycologist #10 - Coprinus comatus - The Shaggy Mane

These posts are not for foraging. They are intended for entertainment and educational purposes only. These posts are not a field guide nor comprehensive in any way - their accuracy is not assured in any way. Do not eat wild mushrooms unless you are a professional or have a wealth of personal experience with a specific species. Do not make any foraging decisions based on these posts.

These Posts Contains No Information Regarding Edibility Or Toxicity


All mushrooms go through a process of maturation, followed by degradation as the mushroom serves its reproductive purpose and withers away. However, few mushroom break down quite as spectacularly as inky caps, and few inky caps transform as completely as Coprinus comatus, or the Shaggy Mane mushroom.


As a young mushroom, the Shaggy Mane begins life as a scaly cylinder. The cap is mostly white with some brownish discoloration near the top. It looks sort of like the Ringo Starr of mushrooms, with a mop cut of brown hair.

This white cylinder grows taller and wider for a little while, until something astonishing begins to happen.


The perfect white flesh starts to SELF-DIGEST

The mushroom's cap transforms from a firm, all white flesh, into a liquid, pure black ooze, or "ink." This process is referred to as deliquescing or "auto-digestion", and the broad range of mushrooms referred to loosely as "inky caps" all auto digest themselves.

It is always important to remember that the underlying purpose of a mushroom is reproduction. In this blog we've already seen mushrooms that transform into sacs of spores and spit spores into the air, And mushrooms that drop spores from their gills, Or seep spores like a kind of mucous out of their cap. Now we can add to this list of procreative methodologies "eating yourself and turning into spore filled black ooze."


The Shaggy Mane is Saprobic (it grows on dead or decomposing organic matter) and grows all over Europe and, I believe, also in North America, although I have only ever encountered them in person in a public park in Madrid.

Like me, you may find C.comatus in the most unexpected places: popping up in the middle of a field, or in some grassy detritus in a park, or even shooting out of asphalt.

The mushroom is tenacious.

This is the Common Ink Cap mushroom. It is a common lookalike for the Shaggy Mane. Indeed, once they have gone to ink, there is no telling them apart at all. Similarly, young specimens of both often look similar.


For those interested in a near 100% "definitive" identification of a given mushroom as C.comatus, you may have a little difficulty. As with many other mushroom species, the advent of DNA analysis has not left the Coprinus genus untouched. Where once many mushrooms were bundled into the genus, now there is only comatus and a few close relatives.

Michael Kuo indicates the surest way to identify C.comatus as such might be to look for either a ring on the stem, or cut the mushroom in half and look for strings of material inside the stem.

Unfortunately, the fact that the cap auto-digests or deliquesces is NOT, in and of itself, a surefire identifying trait.


Macroscopic Features:

  • Cap = Small oval when very young to a long cylinder when mature. 1 - 6 inches (3-15cm) tall. When the mushroom gets older, it "deliquesces" or, auto-digests itself. This manifests first as a black stain at the bottom of the cap, which fairly quickly consumes the whole cap, turning it into a dark black ink. Mature, but not decomposed cap, has a shaggy surface and brown top like a little brown wig almost.

  • Spore surface = Not connected to the stem. White at first - then pink - then eventually black and inky. Crowded together.

  • Flesh = White and soft with a mild taste.

  • Stem ("stipe") = There should be a small ring on the stem. 3.9-15.7in(10-40cm) high, and up to an inch (1-2.5cm) in diameter. Smooth texture and hollow - with "string-like strand of fibers hanging inside."

  • Spore Print = Black

  • Ecology ("How it grows.") = Saprobic - grows on dead organic matter - grows solitary or sometimes in small to large groups. Sometimes they make "fairy rings", or circles. They can grow on all kinds of mediums, from summer through fall.

  • Distribution = Europe and North America.

  • Other Traits = Watch out for the lookalike the Common Inky Cap


Disclaimer 2

The only 100% way to avoid being hurt by a wild mushroom is not to eat a wild mushroom. These posts are not field guides - they are intended for the mycology enthusiast, not the forager. If you want to forage mushrooms there are professional resources available to that end online as well as local mycological societies all over the world which you should connect to for guidance.

For The Online Mycokey program look Here

For a Glossary Of Relevant Mycological Terms, Micheal Kuo's Website Provides


Photo Sources: [1]By Raphaël Blo. Own work CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons [2]By User:Nino Barbieri Own work own photo CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons [3]By Rob Hille Own work CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons [4]By Hannes Grobe/Hannes Grobe CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons [5]By Mr Barndoor Own work CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons [6]By Michael Palmer Own work CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Information sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coprinopsis_atramentaria https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coprinus_comatus http://www.mushroomexpert.com/coprinus_comatus.html http://www.mushroomexpert.com/coprinopsis_atramentaria.html https://naturespoisons.com/2014/04/10/coprine-alcohol-poisoning-from-mushrooms/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coprine http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/817759-overview

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