Common name: Lobster Mushroom
Description: A deformed, bright orange mushroom growing out of ground, singly or scattered in groupings. This is not a mushroom in the traditional sense. It is, rather, a combination of a parasitic fungus that has deformed a host mushroom in such a way as to alter its color, texture, shape and taste. The host has reported to be either Lactarius piperatus or Russula brevipes, but it is possible that Hyphomyces may parasitize other species. There are usually no gills present on mushroom, and the area where gills should be present is completely smooth or with blunt edges, similar to those of chanterelles.
Some specimens are noted to have a ‘seafood’ like flavor. When cooked in oil it alters the oils color to a yellow or even red hue. Chefs love this whatever it is!
Ecology/Associated Habitat: The lobster mushroom is usually found in mid-summer to early fall in Michigan, appearing usually in deciduous woods where there are oaks and poplars. They can often be found near small ponds in the forest, and around clearings–especially campsites.
Poisonous look alikes: There are no known poisonous look alikes. In color, the edible mushroom Laetiporus sulphureus can resemble H. lactiflorum, but that is the extent of the similarity.
While some have conservatively stated that lobster mushrooms should not be consumed unless the host species can first be identified, it is often impossible to do so. That being said, there are no documented poisonings from this mushroom, and it is widely consumed (to the extent you can find dried lobsters in the supermarket).
Harvesting: There can be quite a lot of dirt trapped in the deformed sections of this mushroom, so some trimming may be necessary. It is best to collect your mushrooms in a sturdy basket or bucket, or a cloth bag. It’s also a good idea to keep a soft-bristled brush on-hand so you can give the mushrooms a quick cleaning to remove excess sand or debris before putting them into your basket or bag.
Lobster mushrooms will appear in the same area and around the same trees year after year. It is, accordingly, advised to mark the position where you found them growing so that you return to where you have discovered them in the previous season.
Possible allergic reactions: While there are no known incidents of allergic reactions to lobster mushrooms, care should be taken when initially consumed as with all untried species, especially when it is impossible to identify the host.
Special considerations for storage: The lobster mushroom is quite firm will last under refrigeration for at least a couple weeks. As with other mushrooms, the storage of lobster mushrooms is best in containers that allow some air to penetrate and let the fungus “breathe.” Paper or cloth sacks are a good option, while plastic or air-tight bags and containers are not.
Hypomyces lactifluorum dries easily and, as stated above, can be found at many supermarkets in the dried form. A few specialty stores seasonally sell it fresh.
Some nice lobster mushrooms found in Michigan
Lobster mushrooms can be large and, if you are lucky, perfectly shaped
America, Firefly Books, Ltd, Buffalo, NY.
2005 MMHC Newsletter, September 2013 Featured Mushroom
Kuo, Michael. Hypomyces lactifluorum: The Lobster Mushroom
Kuo, Michael, 100 Edible Mushrooms, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, Michigan 2007
Rogers Mushrooms: Hypomyces lactifluorum
Tom Volk’s Fungus of the Month for August 2001