Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the June 13, 2004 Newsletter, written near Natchez, Mississippi, USA
INKY-CAP MUSHROOMS IN THE COMPOST BIN

Inky Cap Mushroom, COPRINUS, photo by Bea Laporte of Ontario
PHOTO BY BEA LAPORT IN ONTARIO

The first thing each morning when I go pee in the compost bin I'm greeted by one to several "inky-cap mushrooms" of the genus COPRINUS emerging from the hay in the bin. By dawn the mushrooms have already begun to deteriorate, the edges of their caps deliquescing into inky goo that curls, coagulates, and drips off as the entire caps disintegrate, and the mushrooms' slender stems collapse. These are among the most ephemeral of mushrooms. You can see a Coprinus similar to mine at the top of this pageright.

Most mushrooms reproduce with spores that fall from beneath their caps, and then are carried away on the wind. In contrast, the genus Coprinus has come up with the smart idea of mixing its spores into a bunch of smelly goo that sticks to the bodies of insects attracted by such stuff, and then the insects can carry the spores to new places.

Inky-caps are too small and insubstantial to think about eating. Still, I just like greeting them each morning, and I like thinking of their mycelium throughout the days and nights working its way through my compost bin helping break down the straw, weeds and my own excreta deposited there, into a rich compost that will be recycled into future gardens.