One of North America’s most unusual edible wild mushrooms is called Strobilomyces floccopus, which is a dark, scurfy fungus that is gray-white with tufts of black hair on the cap and a fine layer of dark fur on the mushroom’s stem. The common name for this mushroom Old Man of the Woods.The Old Man of the Woods mushroom is common in the wooded habitats of eastern and midwestern North America, and grows in the late summer through early fall.
Old Man of the Woods Mushroom: Description and Edibility
The Old Man of the Woods is a boletus mushroom, meaning that it has porous, spongy tubes on the bottom of the cap. As the mushroom matures, spores form inside these spongy tubes, and are ultimately expelled into the environment when the Old Man of the Woods mushroom reaches the peak of its growth. The spongy pores start out white or slightly gray, and as the mushroom ages it turns a purple-black color that matches the hairy scales that cover the mushroom cap.
The Old Man of the Woods is an edible mushroom, although I have heard many different opinions about whether or not it is choice. Some folks maintain the Old Man of the Woods mushroom is tough but delicious, in the way that escargot or calamari is pleasantly chewy. Others, myself included, think it tastes too much like the forest floor to be considered a gourmet wild mushroom. Naturally, mycophiles often have different opinions about the edibility of one species of mushroom or another based on the quality of specimens they find and sample, and it’s entirely possible that the Old Man of the Woods mushrooms I prepared were not as tasty as those collected and eaten by fans of this wild mushroom.
Old Man of the Woods Mushroom: Collection Tips
Either way, it is important to collect Old Man of the Woods mushrooms when they are still fresh and firm. The mushroom holds up well in the woods for longer than many of its fleshier kin like Boletus betula and Boletus mirabilis, owing to the fact that it has a tough stem and cap that are somewhat more resistant to decay and the elements than other woodland boletus mushrooms.
A note on Latin binomial for this mushroom: I have used the European name for Strobilomyces floccopus, although there are other websites and wild mushroom guidebooks that identify this species as distinct from the European Old Man of the Woods mushroom. Hence, the name Strobilomyces strobilaceus is nearly as common as Strobilomyces floccopus in describing the North American Old Man of the Woods mushroom.
One way or the other, this woodland mushroom is very distinctive and a good species for mushroom hunters who are trying to learn a wide array of easily identified mushrooms. Moreover, the Old Man of the Woods mushroom is a common sight in most oak, elm, and poplar groves throughout the summertime, and so it’s a great mushroom to focus on learning, because odds are, you will see a lot of them when you go out foraging for wild mushrooms.