The Self Digesting Ink Caps
My wife and I recently returned from our anniversary trip to Newport, OR. While there I got to see numerous mushrooms species which was a nice escape from the dry conditions of Southern Oregon where we live. I wanted to spend this post talking about one of the species I found!
Meet Coprinopsis lagopus, one of the Ink Caps!
It's a saprohytic fungus which can commonly be found on wood chips, dung, wet ground, and rotten organic matter. They grow and decompose quickly and are quite fragile.
It has been found to produce some antibiotics, although status of its edibility is different depending on what source you choose to refer. Most agree that it is too small and flimsy to be worthwhile for sustenance, anyway.
Ink caps get their name from the fact that they deliquesce, or liquify while digesting themselves, in order to help release their spores. The gills and tissue around the gills breaks down creating an inky appearance at the margins of the cap. The spores of ink caps are typically very dark colored which facilitates this visual effect!
These Ink Caps sometimes contain the chemical coprine, which when ingested with alcohol can be poisonous, but when consumed in the absence of alcohol seems to have little to no affect!
This species is a great example of how modern molecular and morphological analyses are changing the categorization of many fungi. At one time, this fungus was known as Coprinus lagopus, but it turns out that many fungi that were lumped into the Coprinus genus are actually more closely related to the genera Psathyrella, Agaricus, and Lepiota. The only Coprinus that remains is the edible Shaggy Mane mushrooms, Coprinus comatus.
So now what once was the diverse Coprinus genus has been divided into the genera Coprinus, Coprinella, and Coprinopsis. This is a common trend in modern mycology as little attention has been given to many fungi. It is certain that further divisions in fungal taxonomies will continue as the field of mycology continues to grow and we learn about all the treasures these toadstools hold!