Shaggy parasol mushrooms are widespread and common edible wild mushrooms in the Western United States, and is widely distributed in other parts of North America. I fancy the shaggy parasol mushroom a good bit, both on account of its flavor (meaty!) and texture (robust!). Shaggy parasol mushrooms typically grow in wooded areas (primarily with conifers) and disturbed habitats, which means it’s common to find them on hiking trails, in city parks, and growing pretty much wherever they darn well please.
Even if you’re not all that interested in eating wild mushrooms, finding a shaggy parasol mushroom is a treat because they are handsome and eye-catching fungi; they can become quite large and have lots of classic “mushroomy” features: a big wide cap, a huge ring on the stalk, creamy-white and densely packed gills, to name but three. If you want to show a kid what a “classic mushroom” looks like, you’d be better off pointing them to a shaggy parasol than to Amanita muscaria, which is that striking red one with white spots that everyone outside of the mushroom-geek community seems to think of as the quintessential “toadstool.” The shaggy parasol is also an excellent subject of photography, and often grows in fairy rings or clusters of several individuals.
Shaggy Parasol Mushroom – A Cluster of Three Mushroom Species
As is so commonly the case in mycology, the name “shaggy parasol mushroom” applies to a few different species of mushrooms. Namely, shaggy parasol mushrooms are generally called Chlorophyllum rhacodes, Chlorophyllum brunneum, and Chlorophyllum olivieri.
In many of the field guides that mushroom hunters rely on, shaggy parasol mushrooms are dubbed Lepiota rachodes or Macrolepiota rachodes, and it’s not uncommon to find these names thrown around to this day. However, the shaggy parasol is actually (as far as we know at the moment…as with all things it might change!) a group of three distinct species. When shaggy parasols were divided into three species as opposed to one, all three varieties were moved into the Chlorophyllum genus from Macrolepiota.
UC Berkeley mycologist Elsa Vellinga undertook the task of straightening out the different species of “shaggy parasol mushrooms,” and published the three species with their new names (Chlorophyllum rhacodes, Chlorophyllum brunneum, Chlorophyllum olivieri) in 2002, alongside a couple closely related fungi that were also moved into the genus Chlorophyllum.
The species epithet for Chlorophyllum rhacodes comes from the Greek word “tattered” or “ragged,” which makes it memorable to me because this mushroom’s shaggy cap appears much like an over-washed and distressed piece of fabric. The 19th century scientist who first named the species made a spelling mistake with the Greek word for “tattered,” and thus for many years, the shaggy parasol was known as Lepiota rachodes as opposed to Lepiota rhacodes.
Anyway, enough with the Greek and Latin lessons, here is a great picture of two specimens of Chlorophyllum rhacodes, which shows some of this handsome species’ most memorable characteristics.
Identifying Shaggy Parasol Mushrooms
Shaggy parasol mushrooms are often large, at times up to 9 or 10 inches in diameter (and sometimes larger!). Their signature feature is their shaggy, scaled caps. Shaggy parasols not only look shaggy, they feel shaggy as well, with distinct scales that flake upwards as the cap matures. These “scales” are sort of soft, at times almost fluffy, and are not easily removed from the cap (although they will peel free if you pick at them, they do not tend to wash off in the rain). These scales bear some resemblance to those found on the cap of the common North Carolina edible bolete Strobilomyces floccopus, AKA the Old Man of the Woods.
Some mushrooms in the Amanita genus, which contains some very poisonous mushrooms, including the deadly Amanita phalloides (death cap) and Amanita bisporagera (destroying angel), have flakes or scales on their caps as well, but in most circumstances, these scales or flakes are not a part of the cap, and thus are easily rubbed off. Some Amanitas do have cap tissue that is flaky but not easily removed, for instance the beautiful Amanita aprica, a California species in genus Amanita. By contrast, the shaggy parasol’s scales are a part of the cap itself, which makes them pretty easy to distinguish from Amanita mushrooms.
The caps of shaggy parasols is brown to buff, most often with a circle of darker, woody brown at the top of the cap. As you descend further down the cap, this dark, hazelnut brown coloration starts to shred into scales, with a lighter buff color revealed underneath. The stems are pale brown, a little lighter than what I could call “fawn-colored.” The base of the stem is often bulbous, but lacks a volva, which is a cup or sac-like layer of flesh around the base of the stem. Even though shaggy parasols lack a volva/universal veil, the bulbous base of their stem sometimes has a distinctive rim that looks a little like one. If you are interested in identifying this mushroom, I suggest also looking at Amanitas, especially those species that are a part of the giant Lepidella group.
In most cases, the shaggy parasol mushroom has a soft, felty, and somewhat ragged ring (annulus) on the stem, which often looks quite similar to the ring found on large portobello mushrooms. The ring on the stem can sometimes flake or fall off, so this feature is not absolute. When they are young, shaggy parasol mushrooms look like a club or cudgel, with a stout stem. Baby shaggy parasol mushroom caps are little more than a mostly brown lump the size of a golf ball, often with small streaks or splits that will eventually turn into scales when the mushroom’s cap opens. One of the great things about shaggy parasols is that they grow quickly, and often you will find several specimens in different phases of development side by side, making them quite easy to get your head around.
The spore print of shaggy parasols is creamy-white, and the gills share this color. As they age, shaggy parasol gills can turn dingy, and sometimes you will see a hint of red or pink in the gills, but for the most part they are cream-colored. The gills themselves are tightly packed and are attached to the stem (however, they do not run down the stem, as in the case of many mushrooms).
My favorite feature of Chlorophyllum rhacodes is its staining reaction; like many mushrooms, shaggy parasols stain when you bruise or cut them. When you slice the stem of a shaggy parasol, a bright blush of pinkish/orange or saffron color appears on the damaged mushroom surface flesh rather quickly.
Shaggy Parasol Mushrooms – Lifestyle and Habitat
Shaggy parasol mushrooms are saphophytes, meaning that their food source is dead organic material. As a consequence, they are common in parks, landscaped areas, forests, and pretty much anywhere they can find a bite to eat. They do not discriminate against coniferous forests as some mushrooms do, and happily sprout up underneath pine, fir, and other evergreen trees.
Eating Shaggy Parasol Mushrooms – Tips and Cautionary Notes
Chlorophyllum rhacodes is considered edible and good, and I personally like it a great deal. It needs to be cooked thoroughly, and it has some compounds in it that act as gastrointestinal irritants if consumed raw. It is not known to have caused any serious poisonings, however, even though some people are allergic to them. I do not recommend it to absolute beginners for a few reasons, but it is a good beginner-intermediate mushroom because it has numerous identification features that are pretty solid. Here are a few reasons, however, that it is not the best mushroom to add to your “first 10” wild mushrooms to collect and consume (I would place this around #15 on my personal list of wild mushrooms that I got comfortable enough with to start eating).
- It has a poisonous lookalike, Chlorophyllum molybdites, also known as the green-spored parasol mushroom. Chlorophyllum molybdites won’t kill you, it will just make you feel really rotten for a couple days. I have one friend who accidentally consumed a green-spored parasol, and although she knew she wasn’t in any real danger, she said that she formed a deeper relationship with her toilet over the following 36 hours. It is a good idea to become very familiar with both shaggy parasol and green-spored parasol before trying to eat the former. There are two major features that make these two species distinct from one another, from a macroscopic perspective. First, and most obvious if you are looking at mature specimens is that the green-spored parasol’s gills and spores are a sickly, almost gray-greenish color. When the mushrooms are young, the gills may appear white or creamy like a shaggy parasol, but after a day or two, they start to look brownish-yellowish-greenish (a very unappetizing appearance indeed!). The second feature is that green-spored parasols tend to have much smaller flakes on their caps, which often resemble brown shavings, as though the mushroom were a brown colored pencil that’s been sharpened with one of those cheap sharpeners you get for a quarter. Also, the green-spored parasol’s cap usually looks a bit more like a boob than the shaggy parasol, with a semi-sorta nipple on in the center of the cap that becomes evident as the mushroom matures. If you intend to collect shaggy parasols for the first time, it is advisable to collect and examine a couple mature specimens and closely check their gills for any hint of green and take a spore print; unless both gills and spores are a pleasant creamy-white, you’ve possibly got Chlorophyllum molybdites on your hands! The green-spored parasol is exceptionally common in lawns and yards, and the shaggy parasol seems to do better in the woods, which is another way to start to distinguish these two species.
- There are some mushrooms in the Lepiota genus that are not good for you either, and some Lepiota mushrooms are lethally poisonous. Although not terribly close in appearance to shaggy parasols, it is a good idea to check with an expert to be sure of your identification before tucking in!
- Although with practice it would be nearly impossible to mistake the shaggy parasol for a poisonous Amanita mushroom if you have seen at least one of each in person, in general I encourage mushroom hunters who are just starting out to avoid mushrooms with white gills and bulbous bases. If you wish to collect the shaggy parasol, study both it and a number of Amanita mushrooms so you don’t ever make a mistake!
My First Shaggy Parasols – Anna’s Impromptu Lesson About Gravity and Inattention
The first time I found a clutch of shaggy parasol mushrooms and positively identified them, I was living in Portland and was walking about in one of that city’s many wooded parks in the early fall. In the shade of a grove of Douglas fir trees, I spotted these tremendous, dinner-plate sized mushrooms. I had seen shaggy parasols before, I was sure, but decided to field identify them on the spot, since I had nowhere in particular to be that afternoon, and it was a pretty day for a sit under the trees with my mushroom identification field guide.
I plucked five or six of the mushrooms and put all but one in my round-bottomed mushroom collecting basket, and plunked down on a bed of needles on the bank of a steep hill and started to leaf through my books. Seeing that shaggy parasols typically stain vermillion-saffron when cut, I sliced through the stem of one of my mushrooms, and was elated to see the vibrant color develop over the course of about a minute. Mesmerized but suddenly thirsty, I reached for my water bottle while staring at the mushroom, a small smile of self-satisfaction on my face.
Then it happened. I tapped the basket as I reached for my water and sent it tumbling downhill into a thicket. The mushrooms inside went flying, then rolling, down the hill and out of sight. Undaunted (but cursing myself inwardly), I went sliding down the hill on my bum after them at pace that might have been a little reckless (and certainly did the seat of my pants irreparable harm). About 15 yards below, I found the basket and several of the shaggy parasols, tattered, muddy, and busted up.
I was able to salvage a good bit of the shaggy parasol harvest, although I cannot really say the same for the pants I was wearing at the time of my inglorious downhill butt-sledding experience. This was one of the first occasions where I sort of began to rue collecting mushrooms with a round-bottomed basket, and it was the last occasion whereupon I set my mushrooms right at the top of a steep hill. Lesson learned. Thanks, shaggy parasols!