Gayfeather/Liatris

Scientific Name(s): Liatris spicata and other Liatris species
Abundance: uncommon
What: root/tuber
How: roasted
Where: open fields, landscaping
When: fall, winter
Nutritional Value: calories

Edible gayfeather tuber.
Gayfeather

Young gayfeather plant (early June in Houston).
YoungGayfeather

A stand of gayfeather plants.
LiatrisStand

Close-up of gayfeather stand.
LiatrisStandCloseup

Close-up of gayfeather flower.
LiatrisFlower2

Close-up of gayfeather flower before opening.
LiatrisFlowerCloseup1

Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.
GayfeatherMap_TX

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.
GayfeatherMap_NA

There are quite a few different species of Gayfeathers growing in stands across the fields, prairies, ditches, and woodland glades of Texas and North America. All are considered non-poisonous but only a few of them produce tubers big enough to be worth eating. Their tall, unbranching spikes start green, then erupt with many small, purple flowers, followed by browning as they dry. During the winter months clusters of these old stalks are easy spot, even through snow on the central plains. The drought-resistant Liatris spica are becoming popular in low-water xeriscapes and can often be found at big-box home improvement stores.

Gayfeather tubers continue to grow larger year after year but only the latest-year's portion is tender enough to eat, with the common species Liatris spica being considered the best. Memorize the location of the summer-blooming purple flower stalks for harvesting the tubers in the fall and winter. Once harvested, use these tubers as you would potatoes. They do well boiled or roasted.

Giant Puffball Mushrooms

Scientific Name: Calvatia gigantea
Abundance: rare
What: white flesh
How: cooked
Where: woods, fields,
When: winter, spring
Nutritional Value: minor
Dangers: Always be 100% certain on your identification of mushrooms

COLLECTING MUSHROOM REQUIRES 100% CERTAINTY. WWW.FORAGINGTEXAS.COM ACCEPTS NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR IDENTIFICATION ERRORS BY ANY READERS.

Giant Puffball in woodland clearing.
Mushroom - Giant Puffball

Underside of Giant Puffball. They have no gills, pores, or stem.
Mushroom - Giant Puffball

Cutting the above mushroom in half top to bottom, the yellowish interior reveals it's past time to eat it.
Mushroom - Giant Puffball

Another Giant Puffball. This one is lumpy and misshapen but still really big!
Mushroom - Giant Puffball

Cutting it open reveals the entire interior is a uniform, creamy white color so it's still good to eat!
Mushroom - Giant Puffball

This is what it should look like inside if you're going to eat it.
Mushroom - Puffball

Check out this monster!
Mushroom - Puffball

An old Giant Puffball, already going to spore stage.
Mushroom - Giant Puffball

Tearing open the old Giant Puffball. It released a big cloud of spores.
Mushroom - Giant Puffball

Walking across a field or woods you spot what looks like a somewhat deflated soccer ball...or a bleached human skull laying in the grass and leaf litter. Touching it reveals a rubbery surface over a spongy interior. You've just found a Giant Puffball! These are pretty rare in Texas, being only found in a few counties in central Texas. They prefer cool weather so look in winter and early spring.

Texas has plenty of smaller puffballs such as Vascellum curtisii, Scleroderma texense, Gymnopilus spectabilis, Lycoperdon pyriforme, and others but none of these get much bigger than a lime and most are smaller than that. Giant Puffball (Calvatia gigantea) is in a humongous size class all its own.

When collecting a Giant Puffball to eat you must always cut it in half top to bottom to make sure:
A. It's creamy white all the way through. No sign of yellow or brown which indicate it's already making spores which will make you ill.
B. There are no immature gills or an outline of a traditional mushroom hidden in the mushroom. Seeing either indicates you do NOT have an edible puffball but rather a young, deadly Amanita or other dangerous mushroom that looks like a puffball but matures into a normal "toadstool" shape.

This looked like a puffball but cutting it in half revealed immature gills as described above in B. This is NOT an edible mushroom!!
Mushroom Deathcap

When cooking Giant Puffballs think of them as a chunk of tofu-like matter. The favored way of preparing them is cut them into 1/2" thick slices, batter them with milk, salt, & flour, then fry them in hot oil until golden brown. You can also thinly-slice them followed by sautéing them in butter and some garlic. Good Lord, y'all have no idea how hungry I get when working on this blog!

Chanterelle Mushrooms

Scientific Name(s): Cantharellus cinnabarinus, Cantharellus texensis, Cantharellus lateritius, Cantharellus cibarius
Abundance: uncommon
What: above ground caps and stems
How: cooked
Where: woodlands, near oaks; some yards
When: spring, summer
Nutritional Value: minor
Dangers:

COLLECTING MUSHROOM REQUIRES 100% CERTAINTY. WWW.FORAGINGTEXAS.COM ACCEPTS NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR IDENTIFICATION ERRORS BY ANY READERS.

Cantharellus cibarius.
Mushroom Golden Chanterelle

Mushroom Golden Chanterelle

Note how the gills run down into the stem.
Mushroom Golden Chanterelle

Mushroom Golden Chanterelle

Mushroom Golden Chanterelle

Mushroom - Chanterelle - Cody Hammer

Mushroom - Chanterelle - Cody Hammer

Mushroom - Chanterelle - Cody Hammer

Mushroom Golden Chanterelle

Mushroom - Chanterelles

Cross-section showing the false gills. There is no demarcation between the cap and the "gill" structures, they are all one continuous unit.
Mushroom Golden Chanterelle

Cantharellus lateritius false gills aren't as produced as those of other chanterelles.
Mushroom - Chanterelles Cantharellus lateritius

Mushroom - Chanterelles Cantharellus lateritius

Mushroom - Chanterelles Cantharellus lateritius

Mushroom - Chanterelles Cantharellus lateritius

Mushroom - Chanterelles

Mushroom - Chanterelles Cantharellus lateritius


Cantharellus cinnabarinus
Mushroom - Chanterelle Cantharellus cinnabarinus, Cantharellus texensis

Mushroom - Chanterelle Cantharellus cinnabarinus, Cantharellus texensis

Mushroom - Chanterelle Cantharellus cinnabarinus, Cantharellus texensis

Mushroom - Chanterelle Cantharellus cinnabarinus, Cantharellus texensis

Mushroom - Chanterelle Cantharellus cinnabarinus, Cantharellus texensis


Walking through the Texas hard wood forests after several days of summer rain, a forager's eye will invariably spot gold and bright red mushrooms growing up from the forest floor, especially along ravines and washes. Most commonly, they will be near oak trees as these fungi treasures have developed a symbiotic relationship trading needed chemicals with the oak roots. They seem to like daytime temperatures between 80F and 100F. I personally use Mother's Day as the signal to start looking and September 1st as the end date.

There are several key physical traits you need to look for on chanterelles to properly identify these awesome, edible mushrooms. That they grow out of the ground in hardwood forests has already been stated. They do NOT grow on living or dead wood. All chanterelles have false gills, meaning their cap and gill structures are one continuous unit. They don't have gills but rather the underside of the cap is very wrinkled to the point of looking like gills. When cut in half it is easy to see there's no change in between the cap and the false gill material. These false gills will run down and merge into the stem, a term described as "decurrent". The stem lacks any ring or bulb at it's base. Several mushrooms may be joined together at the base of their stems. The caps are shaped like an upside down bowl when very young but soon invert into a funnel (convex) shape. Spore prints will be light gray/white in color.

Chanterelles sauteer in butter with a bit of garlic and a splash of homemade wine is very hard to beat. These mushrooms can be used in all the "normal" ways that mushrooms are cooked. The golden chanterelles has a mild, almost fruity flavor while the red cinnabarinus have a spicy, peppery flavor. They dry well for longterm storage and are usually rehydrated in hot water before use.

There are two poisonous mushrooms in my opinion that a novice might mistake for chanterelles. These poisonous mushrooms are Sulfur Tufts (Hypholoma fasciculare) and Jack O'Lanterns (Omphalotus illudens). Let's look at those, starting with the Sulfur Tuft mushroom.

Sulfur Tufts (POISONOUS!) going off buried pine root.
Mushroom Sulfur Tuft -Toxic

Mushroom Sulfur Tuft -Toxic

Unlike chanterelles, sulfur tufts grow on the dead wood of pines. Their caps will look similar to chanterelle but sulfur tufts have true gills and these gills may start yellowish but turn greenish then darken greatly as spore production gets heavy. The gills come to a sharp stop at the stem. Spore prints will be purple-brown.

Jack O'Lantern (POISONOUS!)
Mushroom Jack O'lantern

Mushroom Jack O'lantern

Mushroom Jack O'lantern

Like the sulfur tufts and again unlike chanterelles, Jack o'lanterns grow on dead/dying hardwood. They are dark orange in color, and have true gills which end at the stem. Jack o'lantern spore prints will be pale, creamy, or yellowish.

Giant Reed

Scientific Name(s): Arundo donax
Abundance: plentiful
What: roots, leaves, young shoots
How: roots raw, cooked, ground into flour; leaves boiled; young shoots raw or cooked
Where: sunny wet ditches, moist areas
When: spring, summer
Nutritional Value: calories, minerals
Dangers: contains small amount of alkaloid gramine which is more toxic to dogs than to humans

Stand of Giant Reeds. These are over seven feet tall.
Giant Reed

Slightly closer view of Giant Reeds.
Giant Reed

Giant reeds in later spring. The green ones are this-years growth.
GiantReed1

Young giant reed shoot.
GiantReedShoot

Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.
GiantReedTX

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.
GiantReed

Giant reeds look very similar to bamboo, especially towards the base. The reed is hollow like bamboo and structurally can be used in many of the same ways as bamboo though it does not have the full load-bearing strength of bamboo. Giant reeds are considered to be invasive plants and can quickly swallow any location where they get enough sun and moisture.

The roots (rhizomes) are the main edible portion of giant reeds. They contain some calories in the form of starch and even sugars, especially when still young and tender. As the roots age they become fibrous/woody. The young roots can be eaten raw, boiled, steamed, or baked. They can also be dried then ground into flour.

The leaves are edible though quite bitter. Their flavor can be mellowed by boiling. A change of water during boiling usually isn't necessary except with the most bitter of leaves.

The young shoots, when available, are used like bamboo shoots and/or asparagus.

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