Although I love to focus on great edible mushrooms on this blog, for some time I have been planning to delve more into the aesthetically pleasing mushrooms that, for one reason or another, are not often to be found anywhere in my pantry or on my table. The shaggy stalked bolete, Heimioporus betula (also known as Austroboletus betula, as well as a host of older names, including Boletus betula, Boletellus betula, Boletus morganii, and Heimioporus alveolatus), is one such mushroom; although I’ve done a lot of culinary fancying-up of this mushroom in these past few years of hunting in North Carolina’s woodlands and wild spaces, I have never gotten them quite right and they usually remind me of munching on a pile of wet leaves.
My dislike for the flavor of the shaggy stalked bolete is not intended to condemn this mushroom to the useless pile by any means, because the shaggy stalked bolete is terrifically beautiful and shares habitat with chanterelles and black trumpets during the summer and early fall in the NC Piedmont, and I consider them to be a decent indicator species of both edible Cantharellus and Craterellus dainties.
Another blessing of the shaggy stalked bolete is the fact that it is a very good example of the trials and windy path of mushroom taxonomy because it has such a wide range of Latin names. Of course, when looking at the boletes as a whole, one is inclined to want to break it down into a few neat and comfortable genera, but this is simply a fool’s errand. The shaggy stalked bolete has some distinguishing features that has caused mycologists to remove it from the genus Boletus and thence from Boletellus, which is an astonishingly common occurrence and makes identifying boletes (even more) challenging than it already is.
So, let’s get right to it, here’s a portrait of the shaggy stalked bolete!
Yours In Fungal Fancy,
Shaggy Stalked Bolete – Key Features
The shaggy stalked bolete, Heimioporus betula, appears in the summer and fall throughout the southern United States, and it does particularly well in and around the North Carolina Triangle. It’s not uncommon for me to find many specimens of this mushroom in a single afternoon, even though the mycelium of this species seems not to produce that many individual mushrooms at the same time (I usually find between one and four mushrooms that are presumably produced by the same mycelium and rarely more).
The name that is perhaps the most common in identification guides for the shaggy stalked bolete is Austroboletus betula, which means “southern bolete,” and this is a fitting name indeed, given that this striking and easily identified mushroom seems to do particularly well in southeastern United States and is an omnipresent species in the North Carolina Piedmont’s mixed wood forests.
Some sources indicate that Heimioporus betula is a subtropical species that is similar to, but not identical to, Austroboletus betula, but from my readings, Heimioporus betula is a common mushroom in our fair state of North Carolina, and is no longer in the genus Austroboletus due to slight differences in the appearance of this mushroom’s spores, which are finely pitted. As a point of reference, most mushrooms in the iconic genus Boletus have smooth-surfaced spores, and mushrooms that have been moved into similar genera (for instance, Heimioporus, Stobilomyces, and Austroboletus) have protrusions, pits, spines, or other irregularities on their spores.
The shaggy stalked bolete is quite easy to recognize: it has a long stem that is reddish, with large and very noteworthy yellow shaggy flesh attached to it, and as the mushroom ages, the yellow shags become less evident, leaving a stem that is prominently streaky and reddish-orange with hints of yellow.
The cap of the shaggy stalked bolete ranges from red to brownish-yellow, depending on the mushroom’s age, and the spongy surface under the cap is yellow. Also, one thing you may note when collecting Heimioporus betula is the fuzzy mycelium that clings to the base of this species; if you uproot the mushroom in its entirety, you are likely to find thick and abundant strands of white mycelium attached to the base of the stem.
The cap of the shaggy stalked bolete is small, relative to its long and graceful stalk, often getting to be about the size of a fifty cent piece. It is sticky and somewhat slimy when wet, and tends to be a pleasant peachy color when this mushroom is in its prime. In addition, there are often color discrepancies across the cap, particularly when leaves or pine needles stick to certain bits of the cap, and the portions of the cap that are covered up by forest detritus are often darker in color and more red than the remainder of the cap. The spore print of the shaggy stalked bolete is olive-colored, and as a consequence, the yellow spongy fertile layer under the cap often turns greenish in age.
Shaggy Stalked Bolete – Ecology and Distribution
The shaggy stemmed bolete is a common summer and early fall mushroom in and around the NC Research Triangle, and although it rarely grows in patches of more than a couple individuals (and is often found fruiting all by its lonesome), it’s quite common and appears to prefer hardwood trees such as oak and beech. However, I have frequently found it in forests that are dominated by pine, and it’s possible that this mushroom forms relationships with coniferous trees, or at the very least does not do poorly in pine-rich woodlands.
Heimioporus betula is mycorrhizal, meaning that it forms a mutualistic relationship with a plant or tree partner. Given its propensity for growing right at the base of healthy oak trees, I think it most likely that the mushroom mycelium is growing in concert with the root system of those trees.
Edibility of Heimioporus betula
As mentioned in the introduction to this post, I really am not all that fond of eating the shaggy stalked bolete, and even though a good day in the woods can (and often does) yield a collection or two of them, I rarely find enough to warrant building an entire dish around their rather squishy, lack-luster selves. Of course, as time goes on I suspect I may gain an appreciation for this mushroom’s merits; after all, the first time I tried eating slimy Suillus mushrooms, I was convinced that they were of the devil, and only after peeling them and dehydrating them did I gain an appreciation for their earthy, somewhat porcini-esque flavor (some of the time!). Anyhow, if you’re ever in dire straits or want to try a new mushroom that’s common and easy to ID, Heimioporus betula is a pretty good choice because it’s so distinctive, lacking in poisonous lookalikes, and common that you’re likely to have the chance to find and ID it numerous times before you ever decide to tuck in!