Mushroom Of The Week: Honey Mushrooms


Honey Mushrooms (Armillaria species)

Honey Mushrooms have a friendly name, but they can be a bit hard to identify and should be considered an intermediate level mushroom for those hunting wild edibles.  Honeys are plentiful right now and are very tempting to rush to learn, but their features can be very similar to many other mushrooms.  Some of which could seriously harm you.

Fortunately, there is an easy way out.  You can simply make a spore print to confirm they have white spores.  That rules out all their dangerous look-alikes, with brown spores, and only takes waiting half a day or so.  You cut the cap off, place it gill-side down on a dark piece of paper, put a bowl over it and you should have a spore print by morning.  Another way is to simply inspect under the overlapping caps out in the woods.  They often grow in clusters, and you should see a natural spore print, a white dusting of spores collecting on the surfaces of the caps underneath.

Most of the Honey Mushroom species have gills that solidly connect to the stems or even descend them a bit.  They all grow out of wood yet sometimes the wood could be buried under your grassy lawn, for example.  They often grow in clusters, though sometimes not.  Most of them have a ring, called a partial veil, which stays attached to the stem and should be clearly evident.  And most of them have dark coloring to the center of their caps, often even tufts of furry hairs which can capture the morning dew and look like, well, honey.  Hence their name. Perhaps the trickiest thing about them is how they can be short, tall, fat, skinny, huge caps, or small ones, yet all (mostly) share the same group of characteristics and they all, without a doubt, have white spores.

The caution lies with characters such as the Jack O'Lantern, an orange clustered wood decayer that also grows directly out of wood, but their inner flesh is orange, or mixed orange and white, while Honeys are pure white.  Their spores are clearly brown colored and, well if you search images of them on the web, they really do look very different.  The most dangerous of the lookalikes though is the deadly Galerina marginata, which also grows directly out of wood, has a ring, can grow in clusters and fruits in the fall.  They too have clearly dark brown spores which often stick to their stems on their rings and are clearly evident.  However, sometimes a single one can pop up in a lawn right alongside a Honey and it's not clear at all what they grew out of or which is which.  Again, the best thing is to make a spore print of each mushroom you find until you know them well.  Even better is to be shown them by an expert.  You'll learn them pretty quickly.  As always, before eating any wild mushroom, know the mushroom well and know their look-alikes.  Happy hunting.

Gary Gilbert teaches mushrooms locally and through the Boston Mycological Club. He is also the originator of, flashcards for learning mushrooms.

honey mushrooms