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Mushroom of the Week - Cloudy, with a chance of mushrooms

Posted by Wendell Wood at Jan 03, 2012 09:05 AM |
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Finding clouds with generally odd smells.

Mushroom of the Week - Cloudy, with a chance of mushrooms

The lovely white sloping head of the Cloudy Clitocybe (photo by Wendell Wood).

Cloudy Clitocybe, Clitocybe nebularis

A fairly common cold weather mushroom, found both under our conifers, but also below hardwood tree species, is the Cloudy Clitocybe, Clitocybe nebularis.

Clitocybe means “sloping head” in reference to gills of most species in this genus, that usually are decurrent--meaning they extend from under the cap on down the stem.  The species epithet “nebularis” means “cloudy” from the Latin root “nebula” originally meaning vapor or smoke.


This often medium to large-sized mushroom can range from just 2 ½ inches to over 9 inches across.  The caps vary in color from light “cloud” gray to darker grayish brown, marked either with fine fibers or else with a very fine velvety, hoary bloom on the surface.  The spores produced on light colored, blade like gills are pale buff to yellowish.

While Cloudy Clitocybes sometimes grow scattered, they more often produce large, saprophytic mushroom rings—that obtain their nourishment through decaying nutrients and contributing to the formation of forest soil.  Unlike most forest mushroom species, Clitocybes are not mycorrhizal--as the underground mycelia are not in a symbiotic relationship with the roots of other trees or plants.

The odor of this species is also variable.  Most have a very strong unpleasant odor that smells like rodent cages or rotting vegetables.  Other times it is has a milder farinaceous odor more like cucumbers.  Still a few specimens I’ve collected have no special odor I can detect at all.

Cloudy ClitocybeWhile one might be tempted to eat the ones that aren’t as odoriferous, unfortunately this often husky, abundant mushroom is not really considered edible, as it is basically indigestible.  While some authors have written they can be eaten if cooked well, more recent literature cautions now that some Clitocybe nebularis are suspected to possibly contain the mushroom toxin muscarine.

While generally not fatal if accidentally ingested in smaller amounts, still when present, muscarine can cause a great deal of discomfort to those unfortunate enough to eat mushrooms containing it.  While some people may have eaten this species with no ill effects after extra cooking, I prefer to just admire their cloudy masses, left little disturbed on the forest floor.  Still, I seldom can resist picking one or two, just to take a quick sniff, to see if my most recent discoveries smell any better or worse than the last troop I stumbled across.

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