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[Illustration (Frontispiece):

1. Craterellus cornucopioides.
2. Cortinarius armillatus.
3. Clitocybe laccata.
4. Tremellodon gelatinosum.]

A Guide for Beginners




Toronto / London
Drexel Biddle, Publisher

NEW YORK 67 Fifth Avenue
PHILADELPHIA 228 South Fourth St.
SAN FRANCISCO 319-325 Sansome St.


Copyright, 1900

Press of

“_Have you not seen in the woods on a late autumn morning
a poor fungus or mushroom - a plant without any solidity, nay,
that seemed nothing but a soft mush or jelly - by its constant
total and inconceivably gentle pushing, manage to break its way
up through the frosty ground, and actually to lift a hard crust
on its head? It is the symbol of the power of kindness._”



The books which have been consulted in the preparation of this work are,
“British Fungi,” by Rev. John Stevenson; “British Fungus-Flora,” by
George Massee; “Mushrooms and their Uses,” and “Boleti of the United
States,” by Professor Charles H. Peck, State Botanist of New York;
“Moulds, Mildew and Mushrooms,” by Professor L. M. Underwood; and a
pamphlet by Mr. C. G. Lloyd, entitled “The Volvæ of the United States.”

No attempt has been made to do more than to put in popular language the
statements of experienced botanists, and so to arrange the matter as to
aid beginners in their work.

Thanks are due to Mr. Harold Wingate for his suggestions and corrections
of the manuscript; to Mr. C. G. Lloyd for permission to print from his
photographs; to Miss Laura C. Detwiller for her paintings from nature,
which have been here reproduced; and also to Mrs. Harrison Streeter and
Miss Mary W. Nichols for their encouragement of the undertaking and
suggestions in furtherance of its success.


[Transcriber’s Note:
The structure of the Table of Contents does not correspond perfectly
to the book itself, but all page numbers are correct.]


Introduction, 13
Mushrooms, 23
Antiquity of Fungi, 23
Manner of Growth, 24
Odor, 26
Duration, 27
Uses, 27
Habitat, 28
Structure and growth, 29
Mycelium, 31
The Stem, 34
The Gills, 34
The Spores, 36
The Volva and Veil, 37
The Tubes or Pores, 38

Classification of Fungi,
Distinctive Characteristics of Genera. 39
Hymenomycetes, 41
Gasteromycetes, 59
Ascomycetes, 64
By Color of the Spores, 72

General Helps to the Memory, 68

Descriptions of Fungi arranged
According to Color of Cap only, 77
Red or Pink, 77
Yellow or Orange, 88
Gray, 100
Green, 106
White, 107
Brown, 115
Purple or Violet, 129

Description of Some Familiar Mushrooms,
without regard to color, 131

Direction for Using Keys, 147
Key to Hymenomycetes, 149
Key to Polyporei, 152
Key to Hydnei, 152
Key to Thelephorei, 152
Key to Clavariei, 153
Key to Gasteromycetes and Ascomycetes, 153

Glossary, 155

Index to Descriptions of Fungi, 161

Guide for Determining Genera of Agarics
in four Tables, 165


Craterellus cornucopioides -
Cortinarius armillatus -
Clitocybe laccata -
Tremellodon gelatinosum. _Frontispiece._
Coprinus atramentarius, 26
Amanita vaginata, 37
Omphalia alboflava, 47
Russula pectinata, 76
Lactarius insulsus, 92
Amanita vaginata, 101
Psathyrella disseminata, 116
Lepiota procera, 120
Boletus edulis -
Hypholoma perplexum -
Marasmius rotula -
Calostoma cinnebarinus, 129
Cortinarius distans, 147


This book is intended for those who, though ignorant on the subject,
desire to know something about mushrooms. The first question which such
an one asks upon finding a mushroom is, “What is its name?” If there is
no one near to tell him, then follows the second inquiry, “How can I
find it out for myself?” If wild flowers were concerned, Gray’s little
book, “How the Plants Grow,” could be used; and there is also Mrs.
Dana’s book on “The Wild Flowers,” that has given so much pleasure. In
the case of mushrooms, however, but one answer can be returned to all
questions: “There is no American text-book on mushrooms, there is no
manual for beginners.”

There are many books on British fungi for students, but we want some
popular work easy to understand, with no technical expressions.

This necessity for a simple guide-book has been felt by many. Let us
give our own experience. We procured a list of works on fungi, and
looked for some volume not too deep for our comprehension nor too costly
for our purse. Among those we found were “Handbook for Students”
(Taylor); “Edible and Poisonous Fungi” (Cooke), and a pamphlet by
Professor Peck, “Mushrooms and Their Uses.” This seemed to be the one
that we could comprehend most easily, and so, armed with it, and another
pamphlet by Professor Underwood, called “Suggestions to Collectors of
Fleshy Fungi,” which contained a simple key, we started out to make
discoveries. We afterward procured some publications of Mr. C. G. Lloyd,
which were of great assistance, and lastly a glossary published by the
Boston Mycological Society, a necessary addition to our library.

We found Professor Peck’s book was confined to edible mushrooms, and it
soon became too limited to satisfy our craving for further knowledge - it
incited a longing to know something of inedible fungi.

The rest is soon told. We were advised to get either a copy of
Stevenson’s “British Fungi” or of Massee’s works. We did so, but found
them too advanced to be readily used by the unlearned. Then the idea
arose, How can we help others in their difficulties? This little book is
the answer. It will not be of use to advanced students, they will only
criticise and discover how much has been left unsaid; but the beginner
is more easily satisfied with the extent of information gained, and if a
taste for knowledge is encouraged the object of this book is attained.

This explanation will also account for the use of simple terms. We find
a tiny fungus which looks like a brownish bird’s nest, with some
miniature eggs in it, or a shining white mushroom, and we are told its
name in Latin; it is described in terms meaningless to the ignorant,
we lose interest, and our attention flags. We began for pleasure and
recreation, but it became irksome and fatiguing, and the subject which
might have amused us and helped to pass many an idle hour is put aside
and abandoned. Yet this study is a most fascinating one. We all long for
pleasant subjects of thought in our leisure hours, and there can be
nothing more diverting and absorbing than the investigation of the
beautiful and familiar plants around us.

When we leave the bustling, noisy streets of a city and go into the
quiet fields and woods the contrast is very great. A walk for exercise
alone is often dull and tiresome. We cannot be assured of pleasant
companions, nor is there always a fine view or picturesque scenery to
reward us during our strolls, but there are plants to be found and
gathered, and when these fail us, then the bright-hued mushrooms may
arrest our attention. The discovery of new specimens, the learning their
names, the knowledge of their curious organizations, will all add an
interest to our lives. It will inspire us with a love of nature, and
open our eyes to many objects of which we have before been unobservant.
Besides this it obliges us to be accurate. Our descriptions must be
exact or they are of no use.

Let us imagine ourselves taking a stroll in the woods or down some shady
lane, and see what we can find there.

The golden-rod and asters adorn the roadsides, the odors of the sweet
gale and scented fern are wafted gratefully to our senses as we pass
along the lanes, and there, among the fallen leaves, at the very edge of
the woods, peers out a bright yellow mushroom, brighter from the
contrast to the dead leaves around, and then another, close by, and then
a shining white cap; further on a mouse-colored one, gray, and silky in
texture. What a contrast of colors. What are they? By what names shall
we call them?

Let us first carefully dig up the yellow one. We have brought a basket
and trowel, and can examine them thoroughly. We must dig down deep so as
not to break off the stem. There is a ring or collar around it near the
top. There is a bulb at the base, with some slight membrane attached.
The cap is orange color, almost smooth, covered with a few spots like
warts, and there are some lines on the margin. The gills are not
attached to the stem, and are white with a creamy hue. The stem is also
white, tinged faintly with yellow. We will take a penknife and divide it
into halves, cutting straight through the stem and cap. We find the stem
is filled with a spongy substance, and we can now see more clearly the
position of the gills. Our specimen measures 2 inches across the cap,
and the stem is 2 or 3 inches long. It is an Amanita, resembling the Fly
Amanita, which we will probably soon discover. Our fungus is Frost’s
Amanita, named after the botanist who first placed it on the list,
Frost. It is not among the British fungi. It is American.

Now let us dig up the shining white one. It is much larger than the
yellow fungus, handsome, pure-looking, with a rather slender stem. The
cap is nearly 4 inches across, the flesh is white. The stem is long,
solid, with a bulbous base. There is a wide, loose ring high up on the
stem. The membrane around the base is large and thick. The stem is scaly
and shining white like the cap. This pure-looking, handsome mushroom is
one of the most poisonous of its kind. It is called Amanita virosa - the
poisonous Amanita, from a Latin word meaning poison. We have never found
any specimen with insects on it. They seem to know its deadly qualities
and shun its acquaintance.

Let us look at the gray mushroom and see how it differs from the others.
It has no ring, its color is a soft gray or mouse color, the margin is
deeply grooved. The cap is almost flat, the flesh does not reach to the
margin, and is white. It is very smooth, but another time we might find
the same mushroom with scales upon it. The cap measures 3 inches across.
The stem tapers upward, is slender, and is 4 inches long. The gills are
free, not attached to the stem, and are swollen in the middle. They are
not very close together and are shining white. The base extends deep
into the ground, and is sheathed with a membrane that is loose and
easily broken off. It is a very common mushroom, and we shall often find
it, but it varies in color; it is sometimes umber, often white, and even
has a faint yellowish or greenish hue in the centre.

So far we have only looked at Amanitas. They are conspicuous, and the
large rings and colors are striking and interesting to the novice; but
look at that clay bank that borders on our road, and perhaps we may
discover some Boleti. Even a beginner in the study of mushrooms can tell
the difference between a boletus and those we have been examining. Here
are two or three mushrooms growing together. What is there different
about them? We see no ring, no membrane around the base of stem, and
what are these tubes beneath the cap so unlike the gills of the others?
They have the appearance somewhat of a sponge. These are the pores or
tubes that contain the spores. Let us divide the fungus. At the first
touch of the knife, through the stem, the color begins to change, and in
a moment stem, tubes, and cap turn to a bright blue. We can see the
color steal along, at first faintly, and then deepen into a darker blue.
The cap is a light brownish yellow color, 2 inches broad, covered with
woolly scales. The tubes are free from the stem. They have been white,
but are changing to yellow. The mouths or openings of the tubes are
becoming bluish-green. The stem is swollen in the middle. It is covered
with a bloom. It is stuffed with a pith, and tapers toward the apex. It
is like the cap in color, and measures 1½ inch in length. The mouths
of the tubes are round. This is Boletus cyanescens, or the bluing
Boletus, as named by Professor Peck in his work on Boleti. He says it
grows more in the North, and sometimes is much larger than the one we

We turn to the bank in hopes of discovering another, and see, instead,
what appears to be a mass of jelly half-hidden in the clay, and in the
midst some bright scarlet cherries, or at least something that resembles
them. We take the trowel and loosen them from the earth, and there,
among the gelatinous matter, we find small round balls as large as a
common marble, covered by a bright red skin. When cut in half we see
they are filled with a pure white substance, like the inside of a young
puff-ball. This is quite a discovery. We must look in our books for its
name. It is not in our British manual, but we learn from Professor Peck
that it is called Calostoma cinnabarinus. Calostoma is a Greek word
meaning beautiful mouth, and cinnabarinus is taken from cinnabaris,
which means dragon’s-blood. We are not responsible for the names given
to plants, but cannot help wishing that some might be changed or

We could go on prolonging our search, and describe many wonderful fungi,
so easily found on a summer day, but as our object is to excite
curiosity and interest and not fatigue the reader, we will here pause,
and afterward arrange the descriptions of mushrooms in a separate
section. The ones we have described may be found in the Middle States
and in New England.



Fungi have existed from early geological ages. They flourished in the
Carboniferous period, when the enormous beds of coal were formed, a
space of time that occupied many millions of years. Bessey says that the
oldest known member of the order of membrane fungi, Hymenomycetes, was
called by the name of “Polyporites Bowmanii.” During the Tertiary period
members of the genera now known under the names of Lenzites, Polyporus,
and Hydnum were all in existence. It is interesting to know that even
before the Tertiary period the undergrowth consisted of ferns and fleshy
fungi. What a time of delight for the botanist! But there were no human
beings in those days to roam amongst that luxuriant undergrowth, and
only the fossil remains in the deposits of coal and peat are left to
tell of their former existence.


Fungi are either solitary, grow in clusters, in groups, or in rings and
arcs of circles.

The species called the Fairy mushroom, Marasmius oreades, is the most
familiar of all those that grow in rings. Besides this there is the
Horse mushroom, Agaricus arvensis; the Chantarelle, Cantharellus
cibarius; the Giant mushroom, Clitocybe maximus, and St. George’s
mushroom, Tricholoma gambosa. The latter species is reproduced in rings
every year. It is a popular saying that when the ring is unbroken there
will be a plentiful harvest the following season. It is an early
mushroom, appearing in April. It derives its name from the fact of its
appearing about April 23d, which is St. George’s day in the English
calendar. Besides these mushrooms there is another Tricholoma,
T. tigrinus, the Tiger mushroom, which sometimes appears in circles.
The word tigrinus means a tiger. The cap is variegated with dark brown
spots, hence the name. Then there is the Limp Clitocybe, C. flaccida, so
called because flaccida means limp. It also appears in rings (according
to Stevenson), while the stems are united under the soil.

The waxy Clitocybe, C. laccata, is not spoken of as having that mode of
growth in circles, but we have seen many of these mushrooms appearing in
arcs of circles, and forming almost perfect rings, particularly after
showers of rain, and always on the sides of roads.

Many fairy rings have lasted for years and are very old. We have read of
one, in the county of Essex, England, that measured 120 feet across. The
grass that covered it was coarse and of a dark green color. What causes
these fairy rings? An explanation is given in a newspaper extract from
“Knowledge,” in which it is said: “A patch of spawn arising from a
single spore or a number of spores spreads centrifugally in every
direction, and forms a common circular felt, from which the fruit arises
at its extreme edge; the soil in the inner part of the disc is
exhausted, and the spawn dies or becomes effete there, while it spreads
all around in an outward direction and produces another crop whose spawn
spreads again. The circle is thus continually enlarged, and extends
indefinitely until some cause intervenes to destroy it. The peculiarity
of growth first arises from a tendency of certain fungi to assume a
circular form.”

The perplexing mushroom, Hypholoma perplexum, often grows in clusters,
and so does the inky Coprinus, C. atramentarius, also the glistening
Coprinus, C. micaceus. The honey-colored mushroom, Armillaria melloea,
is often found in crowded clusters, and this growth is common to many


Many mushrooms have distinct odors and are distinguished by this
feature. The genus Marasmius may be known by the garlic-like smell
peculiar to it, but it never has a mealy perfume. There is one species,
the disgusting mushroom, M. impudicus, that Stevenson says has a strong,
unpleasant odor; this is also the case in two other species, the
ill-odored mushroom, M. fœtidus, and the penetrating mushroom,
M. perfurans.

The Chantarelle, Cantharellus cibarius, has the smell of a ripe apricot,
a delicious odor and easily detected. One of the Lepiotas, the tufted
Lepiota, L. cristata, has a powerful smell of radishes. Some Tricholomas
have a strong odor of new meal. The fragrant Clitocybe, C. odora, has
the smell of anise.

[Illustration: Coprinus atramentarius.
Photographed by C. G. Lloyd.]

There is a very small white, scaly mushroom, never more than an inch
across the cap, and with a stem hardly two inches high, that has the
distinction of possessing the strongest smell of all the membrane fungi
(Hymenomycetes). It is called the narcotic Coprinus, C. narcoticus, and
it derives its name from its odor. It is very fragile and grows on heaps
of manure.


There is another Coprinus, the radiating Coprinus, C. radiatus, so
called from the radiating folds on the cap, that may carry off the honor
of being the shortest-lived of all the membrane fungi. Stevenson says
“it withers up with a breath.” It is often overlooked, as it perishes
after sunrise. It grows in troops, and is perhaps the most tender of all

The genus Marasmius, belonging to the white spored Agarics, has the
power of reviving under moisture after withering, so it may represent a
genus that endures longest. None of the fleshy fungi have long lives.


Besides the uses of fungi as scavengers of creation, there are some
which have a commercial value and yield an article called “amadou.”
This is a French word, used for a sort of tinder or touch-wood, an
inflammable substance which is prepared from a fungus,[1] Boletus
igniarius, and grows upon the cherry, ash and other trees. It is made by
steeping it in a strong solution of saltpetre and cutting it in small
pieces. It is also called German tinder. Thomé says that Boletus laricis
and Polyporus fomentarius yield the “amadou” of commerce. Then, again,
the birch Polyporus, P. betulinus, is used for razor strops. We need not
say anything on the uses of fungi as articles of food. This subject has
been exhausted by many able mycologists, and, excepting the mere mention
of some mushrooms that are edible, the authors have abstained from this
part of the subject.

[Footnote 1: Worcester’s Dictionary, citing Brande.]


It is interesting to observe where different mushrooms love to dwell.
Some are always found on roadsides, as if seeking the notice of
passers-by. These are the Clitocybes and Stropharia, and many of the
cup-fungi, while the Boleti take shelter in clay banks and hide in every
cranny and nook that they can find. Russulas are seen in open woods,
rising out of the earth, also the Lactarius, which seems to like the
shade of trees. The Cortinarius also prefers their shelter. The Coprinus
loves the pastures and fields, near houses and barns, and dwells in
groups upon the lawns. The Hypholoma grows in clusters on the stumps of
trees. Marasmius is found among dead twigs and leaves. The white
Amanitas flourish in woods and open ground. There are some, like
Pleurotus, that grow in trunks of trees, and make their way through
openings in the bark. Every dead tree or branch in the forest is crowded
with all species of Polyporus, while carpets, damp cellars, plaster
walls and sawdust are favorite abodes of many fungi.


Mushrooms consist wholly of cells. These cells do not contain either
starch or the green coloring-matter, called chlorophyll, which exists in
other plants. They are either parasites or scavengers, and sometimes
both. The food of fungi must form a part of some animal or plant. When
they commence to grow it is by the division of cells, not laterally, but
in one direction, upward. As the mushroom grows the stem lengthens, the
cap expands and bursts the veil that surrounds it, and gradually gains
its perfect shape.

Every mushroom has a spore-bearing layer of cells, which is called the
hymenium. This hymenium is composed of a number of swollen, club-shaped
cells, called basidia, and close to them, side by side, are sterile,
elongated cells, named paraphyses. In the family called Hymenomycetes
there are mixed with these, and closely packed together, one-celled
sterile structures named cystidia.

The basidia are called mother-cells because they produce the spores.

There is one great group of fungi called Basidiomycetes, so named from
having their stalked spores produced on basidia.

The basidia are formed on the end of threadlike branched bodies which
grow at the apex, and are called hyphæ. On top of the basidia are minute
stalk-like branches, called sterigmata (singular sterigma), and each
branch carries a naked spore. They are usually four in number. This
group of Basidiomycetes is divided into (1) Stomach fungi
(Gasteromycetes), (2) Spore sac fungi (Ascomycetes), and (3) Membrane
fungi (Hymenomycetes).


The Mycelium is commonly called the spawn of mushrooms.

It is the vegetative part of the fungus, and is composed of minute,
cylindrical, thread-like branching bodies called hyphæ. When we wish to
cultivate mushrooms we plant the spawn not the spores. The thread-like
branches permeate the earth or whatever the mushroom grows upon. The
color of the mycelium is generally white, but it may also be yellow or
red. Its structural details are only visible through a microscope.

Every fungus does not bear the spores exposed upon the cap nor
underneath it. The first group of Gasteromycetes, or “Stomach fungi,” as

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