When one first becomes drawn into mycology, they soon find themselves overwhelmed once the number of fungal species fruiting from the forest floor becomes realized. There are roughly six times more species of fungi than plants! So, it makes perfect sense why beginners that encounter a new mushroom don’t know where to start. The first group of fungi I was able to identify was the Amanitas because, well, they can kill you, and I don’t want to die. They also have some quite distinguishable features like a ring on their stipe and the remnants from a universal veil. The second group of fungi I learned are from the genus Ganoderma because these species heavily inhabit the areas I hike, and persist throughout the winter, making them easy to spot and examine. The third group of fungi I was able to point out were the milk caps. The genera regarded as milk caps include Lactarius, Lactifluus, and Multifurca. What is so discernable about these fungi is the dribbling of milky white fluid that exits the fruiting body when their tissue is scratched. These three genera are from the family Russulaceae, with one species of these milk caps finally headlining a Fungi Friday.
The species featured today is the eye-catching Lactifluus volemus. This bright ectomycorrhizal species can be found around the base of its tree host in warm temperate regions of eastern United States and Europe. I found this specimen pictured above in the southern Appalachia just north of Georgia. You can see the milky substance exuding from its gills where I scratched. After reading about this mushroom, I discovered that because the natural polyisoprene content (1.1–7.7% by dry weight) these fungi can be used to produce rubber! Wouldn’t that be so cool? Cultivating suitable trees, and inoculating their roots with strains of Lactifluus volemus with the highest polyisoprene content to produce sustainable rubber would be quite the feat!
In the field, I can’t name most of the species I find. However, I am able to narrow my search by looking for some mycological patterns. Some people excel at mushroom identification. I am not one of those people. Though, through close investigation, I most of the time do correctly identify them once I get home to conduct online research. If you are a beginner mushroom enthusiast, don’t be discouraged by the vast number of fungal species. Embrace them and all of their glory, for the forest floor is a place to cultivate knowledge.