Lawyer’s Wigs (Coprinus comatus)

Once you've seen a Lawyer's Wig mushroom, you'll never forget them.
Once you’ve seen a Lawyer’s Wig mushroom, you’ll never forget them.

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 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)!

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.

A perfect specimen showing the ring on the stem.
A perfect specimen showing the ring on the stem.
Shaggy Manes can be quite cylindrical at first
They can be quite cylindrical at first
Cross section. Note the hollow stem.
Cross section. Note the hollow stem.
The gills change from white to pink to black as they age.
The gills change from white to pink to black as they age.

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.

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.

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