Grayish black, shaggy cap and stalk; grayish pores. Usually single, on the ground in mixed hardwood forests. July–October. Cap cushion-shaped, becoming flat; grayish black; white flesh showing between dark scales; covered with large, shaggy, soft, flattened scales; flesh is whitish, bruising coral-red, then black. Pores small; angular; grayish, bruising reddish then black. Stalk slightly enlarged toward the base; grayish black; texture woolly, shaggy; solid, occasionally with one or two ring zones. Partial veil grayish, sometimes leaving woolly ring zones on the stalk. Spore print black. Spores magnified are elliptical.
Lookalikes: Confusing old man of the woods (S. confusus) is almost identical. Although some have said it differs in having erect, firm warts or spines on the cap (not shaggy, soft, flattened scales), viewing the spores with an electron microscope is the only sure way to separate the two. Onusta amanita (Amanita onusta) has gills, not pores.
Cap width: 2–6 inches; stalk length: 2–5 inches; stalk width: ½–1 inch.
Habitat and Conservation
Usually grows singly, on the ground in mixed hardwood forests. The closely related confusing old man of the woods has for years been separated from this species by its erect, firm warts or spines on the cap. Microscopic views of their spores show the difference between these two mushrooms.
Edible, when young and fresh. As it ages, the “old man” becomes crusty, wimpy, and tasteless.
This species is mycorrhizal: It exists most of the time as a network of cells (mycelium) connected to tree roots, in a symbiotic relationship with the tree. (Many trees fare poorly without their fungal partners.) When ready to reproduce, the mycelium sends up the mushroom aboveground—this is the reproductive structure. In boletes, spores are produced in the pores under the cap and are released to begin new mycelia elsewhere. The mycelium of a mushroom can live for decades.
Mushrooms decorate nature the way wildflowers do, adding to our pleasure on hikes. Like wildflowers, they have often been bestowed with poetic or fanciful names, reflecting the amusement they bring to us. The scientific name of this mushroom means "woolly mushroom that resembles a pinecone."
This is one of many fungus species that help nourish forest trees through symbiosis. The netlike fibers of the fungus cover the surface of a tree’s roots, increasing the surface area and the roots’ ability to absorb water and nutrients. In return, the tree shares nutrients with the fungus.
Mushrooms are a lot like plants, but they lack chlorophyll and have to take nutrients from other materials. Mushrooms are neither plants nor animals. They are in a different kingdom — the fungi. Fungi include the familiar mushroom-forming species, plus the yeasts, molds, smuts, and rusts.
Always be cautious when eating edible mushrooms. Be absolutely sure of the ID, and only eat a small amount the first time you try it to avoid a reaction..