Bless the rains and Shaggy Manes

Nature Bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have the ability to grow a shaggy mane on their head, some settle for shaggy chins (and those wear their shagginess with pride!). There are shaggy manes that we all can enjoy though, and of course I am talking about Shaggy Mane mushrooms. But enjoy them while you can, they get along fast!

Shaggy Manes are one of the few mushrooms that can “magically” appear overnight after a rain (most mushrooms take a few days or longer). On October 25th St. George received about two inches of rain, and after a generally dry summer and mostly dry fall the water was welcomed whole heartily. On October 26th (the next day) Shaggy Mane mushrooms erupted in several lawns in St George and the responses I heard were mixed.

“Get them out of here,” “I’m not touching them,” “What are those?”and “I just keep running over them with my lawn mower” kinda sums up the energy of one camp of Shaggy Mane observers. And who can blame them–“Those things weren’t there yesterday, I swear!” Shaggy Manes can erupt and take over a yard seemingly moments after the rain slows down and it’s hard to miss them when they do turn up.

Shaggy manes (Coprinus comatus), also known as “Lawyer’s wigs” in some small fungal circles, have cylindrical, white missile-like caps covered with white/brown scales that give the mushrooms an attractive “shaggy” appearance (as opposed to a “Scooby” appearance which is something totally different). They stand up to one foot and may erupt in impressive numbers—like 100s to 1000s–in yards and wood chip piles. Shaggies will grow for a day or two and then undergo an extreme metamorphosis.

The bottom edge of the cap turns into a black, inky like liquid. Over the next day or so the entire cap liquifies, or deliquesces, from the bottom up only leaving a thin stalk surrounded and/or covered by a black blob of goo. They go from attractive to somewhat disturbing in a matter of days. Sounds appetizing, no?

This deliquescing is the typical spore dispersal strategy for Inky Cap mushrooms (family Coprinaceae, genus Coprinus). Within its cap, Shaggy Mane gills grow close to each other like pages in a book. So close that “regular” gravity-released spore dispersal would result in most spores being stuck between gills. Instead, as the spores along the margin of a Shaggy Mane cap mature, enzymes are released to dissolve the edge of the cap. This autodigestion causes the cap border to spread, crack and peel up. In the process, the gills are separated and spores are released into the air without concern of becoming stuck between gills. Spores be free!

This dispersal method works well for Shaggy Manes as they are found in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and New Zealand. In the Americas Shags grow from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, at sea level to over 10,000 ft. Those shaggy spores really disperse!

The local, excited camp of shaggy mane observers came up with “I saw some at the transfer station!” and “There are hundreds of white mushrooms in a yard on 131. You gotta see them!” These are the fungophiles who know that while not only being attractive and repulsive, shaggy manes are downright yummy! Pick them before they deliquesce, then steam ‘em or cook with eggs (“shags and eggs” is a well-loved treat in the Palmer-Gentalen household) and feast!

“So, what are they doing here?” my neighbor John asked me as we looked at the pair of shaggy manes in his yard. “They are decomposing something,” I replied. Apparently, there had been a wood pile not too long ago right where Shags were growing. Birch chips and wood shrapnel were left there and were now being processed by these shags. Shaggy manes fit in with the classic fungus niche of decomposer, the art of turning things back into soil. Attractive, yummy and a decomposer—Shaggy Manes have got it all! How are Shaggy Manes not the state mushroom of Maine?

By October 29th all that was left of the Shaggy Manes I was watching were stalks and goo. A four-day whirlwind lesson on Shaggy Mane populations and dispersal. Just when you think mushroom season is done and gone, Shags state their presence with authority. I appreciate them even more now. See you out there!

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

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2 thoughts on “Bless the rains and Shaggy Manes

  1. ann hritz

    Also read that they have been used to dye wool……hopefully the next time they appear in my yard I will give it a try.


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