Lawyer’s Wigs, Shaggy Ink Caps, Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus)
Phylum: Basidiomycota. Class: Agaricomycetes. Order: Agaricales. Family: Agaricaceae
Coprinus comatus, commonly known as Lawyer’s Wigs or Shaggy Ink Cap or Shaggy Mane is a distinctive fungus that grows on lawns and roadsides. It’s tall mushroom and easy to spot from a distance. I often see them on the lawns by the tennis courts at Elizabeth.
It’s shaggy looking scales on the cap suggests to some the wigs that legal professionals wear in court. They get hairier and shaggier as they dry out. Ironically, these were photographed by some tennis courts (not Law courts)! They’re mycorrhizal association is with grasses, that’s why you’ll mostly find them in lawns.
Lawyer’s Wigs, being one of the Ink Cap variety of fungi, don’t last too long and decompose into a black slime fairly quickly after fruiting. They auto-digest themselves because of an enzyme they contain. The gills change from white to pink to black. The black liquid contains the spores. You can use the ink from any of the Ink Caps to write or draw pictures with, as the name suggests, it makes an excellent ink, Drawing with it is a way to help the mushroom spread its spores.
Identifying Lawyer’s Wigs –
If you see a shaggy, tall mushroom in a grassy area, look for these details –
- The cap is 3 – 15 cm tall and cylindrical when young
- Young caps can be about 3 cm across, when open they can be 5 or 6 cm across
- The cap opens out into a mushroom bell shape as it ages
- Scales on the cap, a darker brown than the rest of the cap. These become more fibrous and curl more as the they dry out
- Hollow stem that can be up to 30 cm long (I’ve never seen them that long though, only usually less than 10 cm).
- Stem is relatively thick when young, up to 2 cm in diameter
- Gills are white when fresh, then age to pink and finally to black
- The margins of the cap roll up as they turn black
- Little puddles of black nearby where other Lawyer’s Wigs have digested themselves.
- Spore colour is black
If you find a mushroom on grass or gravel that fits all of the above requirements, you’ve got yourself a Lawyer’s Wig/Shaggy Mane/Shaggy Ink Cap!
Caution: Eat Coprinus to your heart’s content, but don’t consume them with alcohol. Doing this can cause an allergic reaction.
For reference, they’re listed on page 43 of ‘A field guide to Australian Fungi’ by Bruce Fuhrer.