Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pioppino Mushrooms

Pioppino buttons - notice the different colors at this stage.

I have been growing mushrooms at home for many years now and I have tried a lot of different mushrooms. Pearl oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) are the easiest, aggressively growing on just about anything that is wood or was once made of wood (no conifers, though), and producing regular flushes. Elm oysters (Hypsizygus ulmarius) are my favorite for my experiments. They look and taste about the same as the pearl oysters, but get along much better with my plants than the pearl oysters. The pearl oysters have killed every plant I have ever tried to put in a pot with them. Cinnamon cap mushrooms, also known as brick tops (Hypholoma sublateritium) narrowly edge out pearl oysters as the most productive mushrooms. I quit growing them because I don’t really like the flavor, though they did make the best cream of mushroom soup I have ever had.

But my favorite, flavor wise, has got to be pioppino mushrooms, also known as black poplar mushrooms (Agrocybe aegerita). Ultimately, despite all their other great uses, I grow mushrooms as food, and there is something to be said for growing the best. After all, that’s the primary motivator for gardeners everywhere, right? The freshest lettuce. The perfect tomato. The hottest pepper. The tastiest mushroom.

Over the years, pioppino mushrooms have proven themselves to be a difficult mushroom to grow. The books I have recommend that it be grown horizontally on a log. That is sort of a tough sell inside as I grow most of my mushrooms vertically on logs in pots. Pioppino mushrooms are native to the southeastern United States, so I figured they would do well with the outside heat in my northern Arizona home. I tried growing them on a bed of logs in a shady spot on the north side of my house. They failed, though I suspect it was more a lack of humidity. I tried growing them on coffee grounds, which is a great method for both kinds of oyster mushrooms, and they never took hold. I have tried growing them on wood chips and they have proven to be finicky about leaping off into the wood chip matrix.

A few years ago, I got my hands on a couple of cottonwood logs. Pioppino mushrooms have a strong affinity for members of the poplar family, of which cottonwood is a member. So I got a pioppino block and got a couple of fruitings out of it (always a good step to maximize your harvest). Then I took a couple of 10 gallon aquariums and cut the logs to the right size to fit inside lengthwise. I filled them with sawdust, cut a few wedges out of the log to help the mycelium get to the interior of the log, and inoculated the whole batch.

After about six months or so, when I was reasonably sure the mycelium had moved into the logs, I added a handful of red worms to each pot and added a few plants, a clivia and an amaryllis to one and a calla lily to the other. The worms broke down the woodchips to make soil for the plants. The plants draw the water out of the bottom of the aquariums, which don’t have a drain. Instant ecosystem!

After a year or so, the log in the pot with the calla lily began to produce mushrooms. It has produced small flushes (usually one or two mushrooms) pretty consistently for the last year or more. But I never got any mushrooms from the other log, leaving me wondering if the inoculation was successful.

This morning, I got my first mushroom from the other log. It is still small, so I will have to watch it carefully to make sure it is the right kind of mushroom, but early indications are positive. If it has indeed taken off, that means I now have two logs that are growing pioppino mushrooms, an accomplishment that I am particularly proud of.

The interesting thing about it, though, is the location from which it is growing. As you can see from the picture, it is coming up from the base of the clivia. Now that could just be coincidence, or it could indicate some sort of close association there. The clivia is extremely healthy, so the mushroom is obviously not causing it any harm. It is definitely something I will be keeping an eye on.


  1. You are an awesome writer - thanks for sharing so much! peace

  2. How did you avoid C02 buildup in a large terrarium like that with such a fine substrate as sawdust? I would think that would attract thermophiles and molds

  3. They are easy to grow actually, almost to any kind of weather.

  4. Nice. Keep us informed on the seemingly symbiotic development at the base. Thx!

  5. More than likely, the clivia and the mushroom are experiencing a mycorrhizal relationship. The mycelium of the mushroom is interacting with the root system of the plant. In a Mycorrhizal relationship, the mycelium attaches to the roots of the plant, creating an extended sheath around the root, allowing the plant to draw in more nutirents and water than it normally would. In return, the mycelium draws nutrients from the plant. This relationship is extremely common in nature, contributing to about 90%-95% of all wild plant growth. In Europe, crops are often grown in fields inoculated with the King Stropharia mushroom, a LARGE mushroom which contributes to a higher crop yield, and, conveniently enough, is also a delicious edible. Nice work. Keep on going, fellow mycophile.