March Salt Spring Fungus of the Month: Flammulina velutipes

Spring got off to a slow start for the Island’s mushrooms this year. There was still snow on the ground at the beginning of march, and still overnight frosts even a couple of weeks in. However, the Winter Mushroom, Flammulina velutipes, like this cluster growing from a stump in the Pharmasave parking lot in Ganges, enjoys cold weather and had a great year. This species just freezes solid and resumes normal growth undamaged when it thaws out.

Also called Velvet Foot mushrooms, this species has a sticky cap with a rubbery texture and a stem with short velvety fuzz that is darkest at the base. It grows from dead hardwood. The mushroom sprouts between wood and bark and grows under the bark as a thin white root-like strand until it finds an opening in the bark it can emerge from, where it thickens up and takes on its usual orange-brown form.

It has a wide distribution and is believed to have originated in Asia and crossed over to North America when sea level were low enough that there was dry land between Russia and Alaska. It is farmed in Japan, where it is grown on sawdust in dark rooms with low oxygen levels so that it thinks it is still under the bark of a tree. The resulting long skinny write mushrooms are sold in grocery stores, including at Country Grocer here on the Rock, as enoki mushrooms.

I like to imagine that the early Japanese settlers on Salt Spring Island in the 1890s were delighted to find, during those difficult first winters here, a delicious food they knew well from across the ocean. I hope it was like being welcomed home by the forests and fungi.

Perhaps the most adventurous of all mushrooms, F. velutipes has even been to outer space on the Space Shuttle, where scientists wanted to see how the lack of gravity affected their growth. I suspect they were chosen because they could be frozen for easy transportation and storage. The mushrooms grew to normal size, but pointed in random directions and many of them made strange spiral stems. Regrettably, I can’t find a picture of the results.

In our area, the Winter Mushroom has a poisonous lookalike that also grows on dead hardwood, Galerina marginata; sometimes they even grow in clumps together. Anyone who decides to collect Winter Mushrooms instead of just buying enoki at Country Grocer should be very sure.

As far as I know, no restaurants on the Rock serve F. velutipes, but there are some on Vancouver Island. Especially recommend for lovers of spicy food: the grilled enoki at Ox King in downtown Victoria or Little Skewer Bar in Oak Bay, served with sesame paste and hot sauce. Mm.
Posted by corvi corvi, April 20, 2019 20:46


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