Ringless Honey Mushrooms

by Green Deane

in Cooking Methods & Materials, Mushroom Et Cetera, Recipes

Ringless Honey Mushroom, Armillaria tabescens

Do not eat any mushroom without checking in person with a local, live, mushroom collector.

The first time I thought I saw the Ringless Honey Mushroom was on my neighbor’s lawn. The only problem was this species of mushroom grows on wood such as stumps or on decomposing roots. I had lived in the neighborhood 13 years and didn’t remember a tree on the lawn … though maybe there was a stump there when I first moved in…

Notice a slight raise and more dark hairs in the middle of the cap. The cap’s flesh is also white (see inside crack) to help you distinguish it from the toxic orange-flesh Jack-O-Lantern

Next time I thought I saw it was 200 miles away in West Palm Beach growing on an Eastern Cedar stump, or Southern Cedar … much the same thing (Junipers.) Ringless Honey Mushrooms usually don’t like conifers (its the pitch I imagine. I’ve also noticed them growing on Camphor stumps — pass — and on banyan roots… maybe worth trying as that is the fig family.)  The third time, however, was a charm, about a mile from my house growing on oak stumps in an area that had been cleared a couple of years earlier. It was a mushroom mine, so to speak.

Gills are widely spaced, touch but don’t run far down the stem, and stain or turn brown or brownish pink when bruised or aged.

The Ringless Honey Mushroom, Armillaria tabescens,  is a southern stand-in of a very common mushroom in North America and Europe, Armillaria mellea. which is also edible. The A. mellea, however, has a ring around the stem, an annulus, as almost all Armillaria do. The Ringless Honey Mushroom does not have a ring and there is also one ringless species in Europe, the A. ectypa. It is rare and classified as endangered in some areas. I note A. ectypa only grows in acidic marshes and is listed as edible and non-edible…. not good form to list an endangered species as edible. A. mellea is an infrequent Florida mushroom in the spring. Though looking similar it has an annulus and the cap is tacky.

Ringless Honey Mushrooms grow on wood, in this photo around an oak stump.

As mushrooms go the Ringless Honey Mushroom is one of the easier to identify. The Ringless Honey Mushroom grows on wood, preferably oak. But has also be found growing on Buckeyes, Hemlock, Hollies, Junipers, Sweetgums, Plums,  Apples, Perseas, Maples, Pines, Ash, Alders, Almonds and Walnuts. Ringless Honey Mushrooms found growing on Hemlocks and Buckeyes are known to cause digestive upset. I would avoid those growing on plums, apples, almonds and hollies. Those trees can have some nasty chemicals in them including hydrocyanic acid. Oak is the most common and safest bet.

The spore print is white which helps separate it from the hallucinogenic Gymnopilus spectabilis (orange-brown spores) the deadly Galerina autumalis (brown spores) and Pholiota species (brown spores.)

James Kimbrough in his book “Common Florida Mushrooms” says of the Ringless Honey Mushroom: “This is the most common late fall-early winter mushroom in Florida. It causes mushroom root-rot of numerous tree and shrub species, and is especially critical in the die back of oaks. It is seldom found in summer months, but appears in striking numbers as soon as late fall rains commence. It is a choice edible species, but because of its toughness, must be cooked longer than the average mushroom.” I would add one usually does not eat the stem. The mushroom is also a good candidate for drying. I parboil them for 15 minutes or so first, drain, then use.

Gills are knife-thin, sometimes forked, stems are white or light yellow on top tapering downward to darker stems.

As for the scientific names, Armillaria (ah-mill-LAIR-ree-ah) is Dead Latin for “little bracelet.” Tabescens (tay-BESS-sins) mean decomposing. One would like to think it is called “little bracelet” because it can embrace an entire small stump but no. It is because of a bracelet-like frill on the fruiting bodies. And I don’t know if tabescens refers to helping wood decompose or the brown-black pile of dried muck the mushroom becomes when reproduction is done. They are called “honey mushrooms” because their color is similar to honey.

Ringless Honey Mushrooms are cespitos, growing in a cluster. Also note how light-colored the young stems are.

James Kimbrough describes Ringless Honey Mushroom this way: Pileus is 2.5-10 cm, convex to plane, sometimes sunken at the disc with uplifted margins; yellow-brown with flat to erect scales. The lamellae are decurrent, somewhat distant, staining pinkish brown with age. Stipes are 7.5 to 20 cm long, 0.5 1.5 cm wide, tapering towards the base; off-white to brownish in color, lacking an annulus. Spores are white in deposit, broadly ellipsoid, 6.0-10 x 5.0-7.0 um, not staining blue in iodine. Basidia are clavate, 30.0-35.0 x 7.0-10.0 um, with four sterigmata. Normally I would translate those technical terms into plain English but with mushroom you should also learn the argot. But to give you an idea: The cap is one to four inches across, shaped like an upside down bowl to flat across the top with the edge turned up…

David Arora author of Mushrooms Demystified, describes the related Armillaria mellea — and edible spring mushroom — and then adds Armillaria tabescens is the same except no ring (annulus) and a dry cap.  He provides more details:

Mature caps can range from two to four inches across.

Cap: 3-15 cm broad or more, convex becoming plane or sometimes broadly umbonate or in age uplifted; surface viscid or dry, usually with scattered minute dark brown to blackish fibrillose scales or erect hairs, especially towards the center; color variable: yellow, yellow-brown, tawny, tan, pinkish brown, reddish-brown et cetra.  Flesh thick and white when young, sometimes discolored in age; odor mild, taste usually latently bitter.

A young cap’s color is uniform without any brusing or aging towards brown-pink.

Gills: Adnate to slight decurrent or sometimes notched;  white to yellowish or sordid flesh-color, often spotted darker in age. Stalk: 5-20 cm long, 0.5 3(5) cm thick, tough and fibrous with a stringy pith inside; usually tapered below if growing in large clusters, or enlarged below if unclustered and on the ground; dry, whitish (above the ring in the A. mellea) soon yellow to reddish brown below and often cottony-scaly when very young.  Spore print white 6-10 x -6 microns, elliptical, smooth, not amyloid.

Habitat: In small or massive clusters on stumps, logs, and living trees, or scattered to gregarious (occasionally solitary) on ground — but growing from roots or buried wood; common on a wide variety of trees and shrubs… on oaks trees the mycelium can frequently be seen as a whitish fan like growth between the bark and wood.

Whether young or middle aged select only firm caps for cooking. Stems are tough and fiberous.

Arora says (of the A. mellea which he also says describes the A. tabescens) is eminently edible. Use only firm caps and discard though stalks. It is an abundant food source, crunchy in texture, and a very passable substitute for the shiitake in stir-fry dishes. The bitterness cooks out, but some forms are better than others. Arora recommends because of its various  forms beginner should pick only those growing on wood.

There are three or four similar looking mushrooms which are toxic. The Galerina autumnalis has a ring, is smaller, and has brown spores. The Pholiota species also have brown spores. Gymnopilus have rusty-orange spores. The Sulphur Tuft, Hypholoma fasciculare, which likes to grow on wood, has purple-brown spores. That leaves Jack-O-Lanterns, Omphalotus.

Jack-O-Lantern mushrooms, above,  look similar but the cap’s inner flesh is orange or yellow, not white like the Ringless Honey Mushroom. The Jack-O-Lantern can cause severe gastric distress.

Jacks are similar but in age can become vase shaped. More importantly their color is shades of orange or reddish-orange, occasionally yellow orange or one species olive orange. The cap is smooth, the Ringed Honey mustard has small black hairs. Also the gills run down the stem strongly whereas in the Ringless Honey Mushroom the gills meet the stem or run down only a little. The flesh of the Jack-O-Lanterns is about the same color as the cap whereas the Honey Mushroom cap is tan/brown and the flesh is white.  If you’re healthy Jacks won’t kill you but will cause severe gastrointestinal illness. Fresh Omphalotus gills can glow faintly in the dark. I’ve seen this several times. As the mushroom ages it loses the ability to glow so don’t rely on it. Some folks mistake Jacks for Golden Chanterelles but Chanterelles when cut are white inside (like the Honey Mushroom) and do not have true gills but rather ridges.

From the kitchen of James Kimbrough: Mushroom Meatloaf.

Young Armillaria tabescens

2 pounds of Armillaria mellea or A. tabescens
1 Large onion
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 Cup of dry bread crumbs
2 Eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 Butter melted
1/2 Teaspoon salt
Dash of pepper

Saute half of the onion in two tablespoons of butter until golden brown. Save several large mushroom caps for garnish. Chop remaining mushrooms, including stems and remaining onions; mix with bread crumbs, salt, pepper, and remaining butter. Stir in eggs and sauteed onions. Press entire mixture in a well-greased loaf pan. Arrange mushrooms caps on top and press slightly. Bake for one hour at 350 F. Let stand several minutes; slice and serve with mushroom gravy.

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Andy Zamora November 6, 2016 at 10:14

Thank you for the wonderfully written article! They’ve popped up everywhere here in Wichita Falls, Texas, within the past few days. I’ve been taking mushroom pictures in a 474 acre park, in the center of town, for the past couple of years. Most mushrooms are poisonous. I feel that even more than most from here are deadly; being that we are part of the transitional area for hill country, woodlands, grasslands, and desert. The very first time I went hunting for Agaricus campestris was in a field outlined with pecan & oak. I noticed, on the very edge of a campestris group, an unusually white mushroom that was taller than the rest. It was an Amanita bisporigera. So, until recently finding a cluster of oysters the size of my head, I haven’t even considered foraging anymore. Now, at least, I’m using the Audubon NA Mushroom Field Guide & Roger’s Mushroom app. Again, this article is very well written. It’s concise, straight to the point, has clear pictures with excellent captions, and it’s short. Most people are too impatient to do anything past a pictorial comparison. Such impatience could kill, or violently empty the guts of, anyone that misinforms themselves by means of ignorance. Good job! I’m bookmarking this site.

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Pat September 20, 2016 at 16:07

I found a similar cluster of mushrooms that grew off old tree stump. The cluster was approximately 1 foot wide. When it rots there are tons of maggots that eat the mushroom flesh. They look similar to these photos. Does this sound like this mushroom or something different. Is it toxic since the maggots are eating it?

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Green Deane September 21, 2016 at 07:03

Most mushrooms, toxic and edible, are attacked by insects. Insects do not have a liver so they can eat a lot of stuff that would kill us. Also whether animals et cetera can eat something is irrelevant to whether we can. Many mushrooms grow on wood. One would have to see a picture. If you live in Florid or the southeast I can recommend two facebook pages that identify mushrooms.

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Re-c August 30, 2016 at 13:29

These look like I know as Shelf mushrooms or elephant ears in the Ozarks of Missouri. Are they the same kind, I wander??

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james moore October 28, 2015 at 19:04

Hi Green Deane. I have these mushrooms popping up all over the yard they are in clusters. I live in North Carolina ( Moore County ) if that matters.they are orange ish to yellow in color. I’m trying to identify them and determine if they are edible.they look very close to the honey mushrooms. can you be of assistance? I’m not sure how to send you an image?

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Green Deane October 28, 2015 at 23:50

You can post them on the facebook page of Southeastern US Mushroom identification. Have you done a spore print?

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mark jr October 25, 2015 at 18:35

i have just found quite a few. in fact so much i don’t know what to do with it. i don’t eat mushrooms i cant identify 100%. i was wondering if you wanted them i could dry them and sent it to you or freeze them with dry ice and send them to you as well. i live in east TN and the date is 10/25 if you want them get back to me soon!!! don’t know how long they will last. plus is there any defining factors from the look-a-likes? if so what are they?

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Green Deane October 26, 2015 at 15:54

Most people par-boil then freeze them.

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mark jr October 26, 2015 at 16:18

do you want them? i can send them to you.

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Green Deane October 27, 2015 at 08:48

No, but thanks. There are plenty here.

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Jessie October 2, 2015 at 15:23

Will Armillaria Tabescens kill my grape vines? I found a bunch of these mushrooms clustered in the vineyard around an old stump of a tree we cut down several years ago. I’m wondering will these mushrooms affect my vines? Thanks!

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Green Deane October 4, 2015 at 20:28

Good question, but I think they prefer trees not vines.

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susan September 28, 2015 at 01:29

Thanks for your information. I have a lot of this growing in my yard. At first I didn’t know about honey mushroom but when I saw this bunch of golden buttons growing in my yard where the tree stump was and all over rotten roots, I start searching about edible mushroom. I’m no expert about mushroom but growing up in the Philippines as a little kid I used to hunt mushrooms just one kind of mushroom on spring time. So I kind of knew how they smell like. I smell this mushroom and it smells similar to the one I’m used to. I cooked some and eat it. I told my sister in Germany about the mushroom and she’s worried that I might get poison. I said I’m still alive. And she told me what they do in Germany to boil water, chop some union in it. Put the mushroom if the union turns black that means the mushroom is poisonous. I did that the next day the union stays white. Yes, I think the mushroom killed our tree. Three of them died since we move to this house. Now mushroom all over where the tree used to be. I got my revenge eating them.

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Green Deane September 28, 2015 at 18:11

Wive’s tales are completely unreliable regarding mushroom edibility.

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Dorian Harmon September 30, 2014 at 10:02

We found some yesterday in S. NH And went to several sites that identify and also checked books and felt certain they were Honey mushrooms. In a different area, a trail, we found dozens of a similar mushroom but no ring. I did a spore print over night and nothing showed up! I guess I’ll just put them back in the woods since I’m just learning. they are definetly not Jack o Lanterns but I’d still like to see them glow!

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Don August 17, 2014 at 21:40

I have tons of these things growing under 2 Chinese Chestnut trees and a Silver Maple tree, I wish I had the guts to cook them up. They look scrumptious!

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Derek June 4, 2014 at 20:20

Found me a dead standing oak , I also found many many many of these all around it. The clusters were only 5-6 each and many singles or small clusters, is late May. We have had several days of heavy rain. I’m waiting on a spore sample to be positive before dinner. Thinking about adding them to dandelion greens, garlic, onion, and bacon.

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lisa November 11, 2013 at 16:39

What a great post! Thorough, great illustrative pics, and very readable.

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Justin Kuester August 31, 2013 at 08:52

I woul like to dry the Tablescens is there any special precautions or procedure I should know? Thanks for the article btw it is awesome and one of the best I found.

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Green Deane September 1, 2013 at 17:59

Some folk separate the caps and stems first, and most people cook them twice using them the second time.

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steve March 9, 2013 at 19:55

who has the most complete book omushrooms currently available

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Green Deane March 10, 2013 at 18:38

David Arora… but there are some good regional ones as well.

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RM McWilliams March 11, 2013 at 14:17

Not sure if it would qualify as ‘most complete’, but Paul Stammets, PhD has written a great book on mushrooms, ‘Mycellium Running’. His website, (from memory http://www.fungiperfecti.com), has a wealth of information. Some of his lectures and shorter talks appear on YouTube.

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Paul Deffes December 29, 2012 at 14:31

Great article, Deane! Thank you. I think I have seen these growing on some of the stumps around my golf course, although what I have seen has been pretty dark and they dont have very long stems. They look like the first picture in the article. There is also a white mushroom that grows everywhere around the course. I have never been able to identify it. I fruits into a pretty large cap. Sometimes 6″ ore more. They don’t grow in clusters or anything and prefer plain soil. I wish I knew if they were edible or not. I could eat so well. lol

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Green Deane December 29, 2012 at 15:36

Of course make sure you are right. Point two: Never eat a white mushroom with white gills. Never.

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Paul Deffes January 1, 2013 at 13:32

Thanks for the tip! They’re not fruiting right now, but when they do I’ll take a closer look at them and try and get a spore print.

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Michael January 6, 2013 at 03:52

That’s a good beginner tip, but there are some good white/white mushrooms, like Leucoagaricus leucothites.

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Ashton December 14, 2012 at 16:49

What do you use to make your spore print?

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Green Deane December 14, 2012 at 17:33

A clear plastic sheet. They are sold in office supply stores for making clear overhead projections. You removed the stem and put the mushroom gills down on the sheet. Wait a few hours.

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art smyth November 29, 2012 at 15:28

hey thanks for the info. had a question about something completely different however didnt know where to post it?

CAN YOU eat muskovey duck and eggs?

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Green Deane November 29, 2012 at 18:38

Absolutely. In fact they are the most consumed duck on the planet. Personally I like duck eggs. More yoke, a tad rubbery.

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Mike Conroy November 24, 2012 at 10:23

“Some writers say that mushrooms which grow on wood won’t kill you”. In Missouri, “Some writers” would either be very ill on a regular basis or dead.

To quote Missouri Department of Conservation, “Jack-o’-lanterns have knifelike gills and grow in the tight clusters on wood or buried wood, rather than on the ground.” (http://mdc4.mdc.mo.gov/tv/hints/mushrooms.pdf)

Once again proving your point – do not eat anything you do not positively know to be safe to eat. If an “expert” says it is and you question his authority or are otherwise suspect, have him harvest it, prepare it, eat it, all in front of you, and then come back in 24 hours to see if he is alive and well before you eat it. And, do NOT listen to wives tales or believe everything you see written, especially on the internet.

If it is a mushroom and is growing on wood, it CAN kill you.

Thanks for providing me a safe and enjoyable foraging experience via your site and your youtube videos.

Mike

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Green Deane November 24, 2012 at 16:36

Good point. Jacks can make you quite ill but usually are not fatal… you just wish they were.

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Michael January 6, 2013 at 03:47

wood-growing mushrooms definitely can kill you. Wood-growing shelf-mushrooms (no stem) that have pores instead of gills (repeat, no gills) are the sort of thing that’s almost certainly not going to kill you and might cure you of something, but you have to include those other parts to that rule. On the other hand, the chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) is one of those, which is usually considered a good edible, but some people react to it with gastric distress. Galerina autunmalis grows on wood and is deadly. It’s a fairly standard-looking brown mushroom with a cap and gills. It has killed people in the west who mistook it for Psilocybe cyanescens, a halucinogenic mushroom that grows on wood. I’m sure there are others I could find, but my point has been made. Mushrooms usually either grow on wood (can be buried wood, like a root) or in the ground (or in mycorrhizal association with roots, which is basically in the ground too). This is usually a good identifying feature, but not absolute. Some species do funny things. Some wood-eating mushrooms will pop up from the ground near some wood they’re eating, but I haven’t heard of them going the other way.

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narf7 November 22, 2012 at 14:06

Thanks to this post I just found out that Armillaria luteobubalina, the awful fungus that kills off large tracts of trees in Australia and infests gardens is edible! If you can’t beat it…EAT it! 🙂

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