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When I first encountered Coprinopsis lagopus, an Inky Cap mushroom, growing here, I wasn’t actually sure it was a mushroom at all.  This is one of the most fragile appearing species of fungus, of any, I’ve seen this winter.  In the past week numerous specimens of this mushroom have been found all over the property, in various stages of growth.

 

The first specimen of Coprinopsis lagopus found growing here (click images to enlarge)

Coprinopsis lagopus is commonly known as the ‘Haresfoot Inky Cap’ as the young fruiting bodies vaguely resemble a rabbit’s foot.

Young, dry, fruiting bodies of Coprinopsis lagopus are quite fuzzy, and vaguely resemble a rabbit's foot

However, note that when wet the fine hairs are less visible on the surface, exposing the cuticle beneath

Coprinopsis lagopus decomposes woody debris in forests, is very common, and can be found worldwide.  It is also occasionally found in cultivated gardens growing on wood chips.  Even here it seems this species favors our numerous scattered piles of decomposing woodchips that we’ve generated since acquiring ‘Wally’.

When young, the cap of Coprinopsis lagopus is conical in shape, and the surface is covered with soft, white hairs which are remnants of a universal veil.  As the cap opens, it becomes more plane, and is typically 3-6 cm broad.

A young fruiting body of Coprinopsis lagopus

The expanding caps of Coprinopsis lagopus

Recurving margin of Coprinopsis lagopus

In maturity the margin recurves. The mature fruiting bodies are short lived, and begin to decay in a matter of hours.  The veil remnants usually weather away, and reveal a striate greyish-brown cuticle, with papery thin flesh.

The cap margin can become significantly curled at the edge in mature specimens

The under-surface of Coprinopsis lagopus showing the striate brownish cuticle

The dorsal surface of this dry, mature, specimen appears almost scale-like

The edges of the margin are often split or ragged in age as the gills liquefy.  The liquefaction of the gills is an intriguing method of exposing the spores to the wind to aid in their dispersal. The gills liquefy from the bottom up as the spores are maturing, causing the cap to peel up and away, exposing the spores to air currents.

The relatively intact mature cap of Coprinopsis lagopus

The cap of Coprinopsis lagopus as it begins to senesce

The cap margin becomes torn and quite ragged with age

The spores are violaceous black. As the cap liquefies it results in the ink that provides the common name for these inky caps.  This “ink” can apparently be used as writing ink, although I admit I haven’t tried.

 

The liquifying cap of Coprinopsis lagopus

The stipe is 2-10 cm tall, hollow, fragile, and covered in white veil fragments especially toward the base when young, but may become smooth with age.

The base of the stipe can remain quite 'fuzzy' as this mushroom matures, as seen here, or may become smooth

The edibility of this species is unknown.

This species demonstrates that identification of some fungi can be rather challenging if all the life-stages have not been observed.  I initially located just the single specimen shown in the first photograph, along with a few cap-less collapsed stems.  It wasn’t until a small gregariously clustered group of these fungi, in various stages of growth were found, that I could more accurately determine what I was looking at.