Foraging Fun: Lepista personata

Six weeks ago when there was still foliage on the trees outside of the intern house here at the farm I discovered, collected, identified and consumed my very first field blewit (Lepista personata/L. saeva) growing from an old forgotten pile of straw bales: the start of a compost pile which never received new additions or got turned over. Incredibly, I have been able to return to this same patch twice (including today, November 11th 2015) since my initial observation and collect new mushrooms that have been emerging for the dinner table. The days are starting to get pretty chilly, so the mushrooms don’t grow very quickly and once mature don’t soil as rapidly which works out in my favor. This perfectly fits into the whole concept of STUN (Strategic Total Utter Neglect) very nicely; as leaving the mushrooms out in the field seems to be the best way to preserve them.

Field blewits look quite similar and are related to the perhaps more familiar wood blewit (Clitocybe nuda; formerly L. nuda) but differ in having vastly different habitat preferences and belonging to two separate genera within the same family (Tricholomataceae). Field blewits are only occasionally cultivated as an edible species, and this is a real shame because at least from what the literature I have seen is suggesting, as are my own preliminary experiments, this seems to be a very suitable species for naturalization into backyards and homesteads of all shapes and sizes.

L. personata produces beautiful mushrooms that most often fruit in the autumn, sometimes into November (in southern Ontario), at least if the weather is mild like it has been this year. This species has an overall purplish hue, especially the stalk and gills of maturing specimens. Caps start out with a purple-ish hues but quickly fade to tan or buff brown with an incurved margin. The caps become flattened or concave with age and often acquire a rippled, wavy and upturned margin. The stalks are quite thick, generally short and squat and lack any evidence of a veil or annulus. The entire mushroom is said to smell  like a combination of frozen orange juice and lilac blossoms when freshly picked. These are two scents that I personally wouldn’t have been creative enough to think up but I have to say that they’re definitely there.

Field blewits are not overly common in urban areas from what I have seen but I believe that to be a case of there being more of it’s desired habitat lying around in agricultural fields than in most urban backyards. Despite this L. personata has tremendous potential when introduced into your own outdoor space to help increase the efficiency at which certain yard wastes (deciduous leaves, pine needles, light brush and straw) can be transformed into top notch compost all the while producing nutritious and delicious crops of mushrooms. Additionally, field blewits can be incorporated into your existing garden mulch which will allow the mycelium to degrade the material in direct association with your plants, providing them with fertility, trapping moisture and of course producing mushrooms alongside your vegetables and fruit. As materials are raked and moved from place to place, the fungi will travel within the substrate and may begin to colonize new areas of your field or yard.

The hardest part of this whole process may just be getting your hands on some field blewits, or more specifically, their mycelium. There are really only two feasible options: learn to identify accurately identify the species and propagate them yourself through stem butts and/or mycelium fragments (which requires loads of time and effort researching and wandering through suitable environments) or to purchase some field blewit ‘spawn’ (mushroom spores or ‘seeds’) from a reputable source in order to ensure that you know exactly what species you are working with introducing into your garden. If you are in southern Ontario, I recommend either The Mushroom Patch or Field & Forest Products as a source of mushroom spawn and cultures.

So now that you have acquired some mycelium via one of the aforementioned sources, how should you actually go about growing them? Field blewits love carboniferous waste, which includes fibrous materials including straw, pine needles, dried grass clippings and  small twigs. Adding animal manure to a particular mixture of other ingredients also apparently works quite well too if you have any available. From what I have read (such as here and here, which are two resources I highly recommend you view), blewit spawn or the butt ends of mushrooms can be placed upon a layer of moistened autumn leaves to which a layer of straw from clean, dry bales that has been taken apart, soaked in water for 3 days and allowed to dry for 36 hours can be applied. This blewit ‘patch’ ought to be situated in a location that is protected from winds, in part sun/shade and convenient to water if necessary and harvest.

Of course, this is just one method out of many as you will see once you immediately begin researching more about the fascinating field blewit mushroom after finishing this post. The species is highly opportunistic in general and can therefore tolerate quite a wide range of conditions, allowing it to flourish even if conditions aren’t absolutely ideal. Either way, it’s probably worth a shot trying to grow L.personata considering even if the mushrooms don’t fruit right away they will continue to work hard creating top-quality compost and perhaps one day when the conditions/ingredients are right they will surprise you with something beautiful and delicious.

A fun and simple way of propagating field blewit mycelium is to create what are known as blewit burritos or blewit bombs. You have to have mature mushrooms/fruiting bodies or mycelium at your disposal in order to do this, but it is a great way to move and propagate the mycelium of this species once you get it, by whatever means you choose. You can check out videos that go into the details of these very straightforward procedures here and here. Essentially the principal is that you are taking the actively growing mycelium, which is found at the base of the mushroom stalks and throughout any previously colonized substrate, and relocating them to another suitable environment so that they may continue to grow elsewhere.

With luck, much like king stropharia mushrooms (Stropharia rugosoannulata) (which you can learn all about from my 2 part post right here), the populations you create could become self perpetuating and spread themselves all over your vicinity as they produce fruiting bodies and distribute spores. You may have never heard of field blewits before, but like many of the mushroom species that I have already written articles about (and the endless assortment that I am yet to formally address) there is a myriad of ways in which you can put them to work for you and use their natural talents and adaptations to make yourself and your environment more adaptable to change, increase your self-sustainability and your respect for the diversity and ingenuity of the natural world.