Honey-colored, with a dry, scaly cap, lacking a ring on the stalk. Grows in clusters on wood. September–November. Cap convex, then flattened, the margin uplifted with age; yellow-brown to honey brown, with reddish brown cottony scales; texture dry, scaly. Gills narrow to broad; spacing distant; whitish, staining pinkish to brownish; attachment slightly descending. Stalk thick, tapering toward base; off-white to brownish; texture fibrous; growing in clusters with stalks fused at bases. Spore print white. Spores magnified are elliptical, smooth, colorless.
Lookalikes: The honey mushroom (Armillaria mellea) has a sticky cap and a ring. The poisonous jack-o'-lantern (Omphalotus illudens) is orange with a smooth cap. The big laughing gym (Gymnopilus junonius) is orange, bitter, with orange-brown spores and a ring. The deadly galerina (Galerina marginata) is smaller, has a smooth cap, a stalk ring, and brown spores.
Cap width: 1–4 inches; stalk length: 2–8 inches; stalk width: ¼–½ inch.
Habitat and Conservation
Grows in clusters, often in large numbers, at the bases of trees or stumps, especially oaks. Common in urban yards. Sometimes it looks like it's growing right out of the ground, but it is actually growing from low stumps, roots, or other buried wood.
Edibility good when young and fresh. Although a good edible, ringless honeys must be thoroughly cooked, or they can cause serious stomach upset. Try a small amount at first, and make sure it is fully cooked. If gathering from urban areas, make sure no lawn treatments have been used! Some people use only the caps, discarding the tough stems. As always, be certain of your identification before eating any wild mushroom.
Ringless honey mushrooms exist most of the time as a network of cells (mycelium) penetrating the tissues of living trees, frequently killing their hosts by damaging the tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients. This particular species may be an exception, however, living on dead, not living, wood. When ready to reproduce, the mycelium forms mushrooms, which produce spores that are released to begin new mycelia elsewhere. The mycelia find new hosts by spreading through the soil.
This mushroom (and its relatives in the closely related genus Armillaria) are parasitic on trees and can kill them, especially young or weakened ones. It can be a problem in orchards. Because the mycelium spreads beneath the soil surface, it can be difficult to control.
Most honey mushrooms are parasites on living trees. When their host tree dies, the mushroom can continue to digest the tree and its roots for years to come. That is why you often see them growing on the ground near stumps, or where stumps used to be.
Like other mushrooms we see, the above-ground fruiting bodies of ringless honey mushrooms have their own cycle of existence, appearing in fall, growing, spreading their caps, and shedding spores. As the fruiting bodies begin to deteriorate, you may notice numerous insects swarming over what's left of them. These mushrooms provide food for numerous small insects and other arthropods, which in turn become food for birds, salamanders, toads, and other animals.
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..