Glistening Ink Cap - Coprinus micaceus
This small fungus is a common sight throughout northern Europe. It grows in clumps, sometimes quite extensively, around the base of old trees and on stumps. Not just found in woodland, this is a common fungus and can be found in parks and gardens in urban areas, as well as in the countryside.
When young, clusters of glistening ink cap look like a collection of small eggs nestled at the base of a tree, their caps just showing above the leaf litter. As it matures like other members of the Coprinaceae family, it takes on a traditional mushroom shape with a cap and stem. However, the cap is a tawny brown 'lampshade', a bit like a shoulder length, shaggy 70's haircut, rather than the mushrooms convex shape. Early in the mushrooms development, the cap is covered in mica-like particles that disperse as it grows, and can be recognised by distinctive 'pleats' from the top of the cap to the base.
The stem has no ring and is a soft white colour. The gills within are very narrow and close together, and start off white then colour brown with the spores as the ink cap ages. The spores are released from the base or margin of the cap at first, and gradually this disintegrates as the spores are released higher and higher up the cap. Eventually the cap is completely shrivelled and turns to a greasy, inky mush when touched. All that is left is the stained black stem. It has pale whitish flesh if cut in half, and a light earthy smell.
Can I eat it?
The glistening ink cap is not poisonous and so probably won't do you any harm, but it is not generally gathered by serious mushroom hunters. Books describe it as 'non distinctive' or 'inedible' in flavour, so one to top a pizza with, but not to rely on as a main course. It can be found all year round however, if you're desperate for a mushroomy snack.
Mushrooms and other fungi of Great Britain and Europe - Roger Philips
The Encyclopedia of Fungi of Britain and Europe - Michael Jordan
See: http://www.treknature.com/gallery/Europe/United_Kingdom/photo2907.htm for a picture