I am an amateur naturalist trying to identify everything living in my garden.
Photo 1 shows a small troop of mushrooms I found growing in some damp grass beneath my garden hedge.
From its general appearance my first thought was that these were a type of ink cap mushroom (see my previous posting here), but after watching them for a week there was no sign of any of the caps dissolving into an inky mess and it was clear further investigation would be needed.
The first thing to do when seeking to identify a mushroom is to take a spore print. This is extremely easy: place a cap, gills down, on any suitable surface, wait twenty minutes, remove, and hey presto - a spore print. That of my mushroom is shown in photo 2. Knowing spore colour (here, black) will typically allow you to rule out at least half the species in the average mushroom guide.
If you have a microscope it can also be valuable to ascertain spore shape and size. Mine were ovoid and around 12x6micron (photo 3).
Other features I noted for my mushroom were the the grooved (the technical term being striate) mostly brown cap, fading to white at the edge, and the 'flakey stem' (a.k.a. floccose stipe) in photo 1.
With these features in mind it was time to turn to the guide books. Unfortunately, such is the number of species of mushroom in Britain (more than 3000, with others, new to these shores, being recorded regularly) that no single guide book can cover them all. This proved the case for my mushroom. I failed to find it in the first three books I tried, the floccose stipe proving a rather troublesome feature, ruling out a number of otherwise similar small brown mushrooms in the books. It wasn't until I turned to my copy of Mushrooms and Toadstools (Cortecuisse and Duhem) that I found a picture of Psathyrella lutesnsis. All the features were there and I'm fairly confident in this indentification.
Cortecuisse describes P. lutensis as growing on damp ground (a fit with my location) and being scare-to-rare.
I have learnt in the course of writing this blog that almost any life form I come across will have some unique and curious aspect to its lifestyle (for example, its relationships with other creatures, its chemistry, or its means of reproduction). No doubt this is true of P.lutensis. Unfortunately my searches have failed to turn up any information about it whatsoever. Perhaps I have merely looked in the wrong places. On the other hand, so sporadic and fleeting may be its appearance that perhaps no one has ever studied my enigmatic little mushroom. If anyone knows more any more about it than merely its name, do please leave a comment.