The species of Coprinus are readily recognized from the black spores in addition to the fact that the gills, at maturity, dissolve into a black or inky fluid. The larger species especially form in this way an abundance of the black fluid, so that it drops from the pileus and blackens the grass, etc., underneath the plant. In some of the smaller species the gills do not wholly deliquesce, but the cap splits on top along the line of the longer gills, this split passing down through the gill, dividing it into two thin laminae, which, however, remain united at the lower edge. This gives a fluted appearance to the margin of the pileus, which is very thin and membranaceous.

The plants vary in size, from tiny ones to those which are several inches high and more than an inch broad. Their habitat (that is, the place where they grow) is peculiar. A number of the species grow on dung or recently manured ground. From this peculiarity the genus received the name Coprinus from the Greek word xopvo's, meaning dung. Some of the species, however, grow on decaying logs, on the ground, on leaves, etc.

Figure 31. Coprinus comatus, shaggy mane, in lawn

Figure 31

Coprinus comatus, "shaggy-mane," in lawn.

Coprinus comatus Fr. Edible. - One of the finest species in this genus is the shaggy-mane, or horse-tail mushroom, as it is popularly called. It occurs in lawns and other grassy places, especially in richly manured ground. The plants sometimes occur singly, or a few together, but often quite large numbers of them appear in a small area. They occur most abundantly during quite wet weather, or after heavy rains, in late spring or during the autumn, and also in the summer. From the rapid growth of many of the mushrooms we are apt to be taken by surprise to see them all up some day, when the day before there were none. The shaggy-mane often furnishes a surprise of this kind. In our lawns we are accustomed to a pretty bit of greensward with clumps of shrubbery, and here and there the overhanging branches of some shade tree. On some fine morning when we find a whole flock of these shaggy-manes, which have sprung up during the night, we can imagine that some such kind of a surprise must have come to Browning when he wrote these words:

Figure 32. Coprinus comatus

Figure 32

Coprinus comatus. " Buttons," some in section showing gill slits and hollow stem; colors white and black. (Natural size.)

"By the rose flesh mushroom undivulged Last evening. Nay, in to-day's first dew

Yon sudden coral nipple bulged, Where a freaked, fawn colored, flaky crew

Of toadstools peep indulged."

The plant is called shaggy-mane because of the very shaggy appearance of the cap, due to the surface being torn up into long locks. The illustrations of the shaggy mane shown here represent the different stages of development, and the account here given is largely taken from the account written by me in Bulletin 168 of the Cornell University Agr. Exp. Station.

In Fig. 32 are shown two buttons of the size when they are just ready to break through the soil. They appear mottled with dark and white, for the outer layer of fungus threads, which are dark brown, is torn and separated into patches or scales, showing between the delicate meshes of white threads which lie beneath. The upper part of the button is already forming the cap, and the slight constriction about midway shows the lower boundary or margin of the pileus where it is still connected with the undeveloped stem.

Figure 33. Coprinus comatus (natural size)

Figure 33

Coprinus comatus (natural size).

At the right of each of these buttons in the figure is shown a section of a plant of the same age. Here the parts of the plant, though still undeveloped, are quite well marked out. Just underneath the pileus layer are the gills. In the section one gill is exposed to view on either side. In the section of the larger button the free edge of the gill is still closely applied to the stem, while in the small one the gills are separated a short distance from the stems showing "gill slits." Here, too, the connection of the margin of the pileus with the stem is still shown, and forms the veil. This kind of a veil is a marginal veil.

The stem is hollow even at this young stage, and a slender cord of mycelium extends down the center of the tube thus formed, as is shown in the sections.

The plants are nearly all white when full grown. The brown scales, so close together on the buttons, are widely separated except at the top or center of the pileus, where they remain close together and form a broad cap. A study of the different stages, which appear from the button stage to the mature plant, reveals the cause of this change in color and the wide separation of the dark brown scales. The threads of the outer layer of the pileus, and especially those in the brown patches seen on the buttons, soon cease to grow, though they are firmly entangled with the inner layers. Now the threads underneath and all through the plant, in the gills and in the upper part of the stem, grow and elongate rapidly. This pulls on the outer layer, tearing it in the first place into small patches, and causing them later to be more widely separated on the mature plant. Some of these scales remain quite large, while others are torn up into quite small tufts.

Figure 34. Coprinus comatus (natural size)

Figure 34

Coprinus comatus (natural size). This one entirely white, none of the scales black tipped.

As the plant ages, the next inner layers of the pileus grow less rapidly, so that the white layer beneath the brown is torn up into an intricate tangle of locks and tufts, or is frazzled into a delicate pile which exists here and there between well formed tufts. While all present the same general characters there is considerable individual variation, as one can see by comparing a number of different plants. Figure 34 shows one of the interesting conditions. There is little of the brown color, and the outer portion of the pileus is torn into long locks, quite evenly distributed and curled up at the ends in an interesting fashion which merits well the term "shaggy." In others the threads are looped up quite regularly into triangular tresses which appear to be knotted at the ends where the tangle of brown threads holds them together.

Figure 35. Coprinus comatus, sections of the plants in Fig

Figure 35

Coprinus comatus, sections of the plants in Fig. 33 (natural size).