Friday, June 5, 2015

Hiking and Identification of Some Texas Wild Edibles

Cedar Ridge Preserve
So earlier this week, my husband and I decided to try and find some good hiking locations. Cedar Hill, a suburb of Dallas and Fort Worth, has both a state park and a preserve. The state park was closed for flooding (not expected to open till the 6th of July!!!) but we were able to have a great hike at the preserve. 

Cedar Ridge Preserve is managed by the Audubon Society of Dallas. It's a gorgeous area, a northern outcropping of famed-for-its-beauty Texas Hill Country. Hills! Yes! One of the few things I'm missing from the northeast is woodland terrain, and the Preserve filled the need--though it's very different from back home!

Osage Orange or Hedge Apple (Maclura pomifera) -- fruit inedible

Of course, I also had my identification and foraging eyes open. Right at the entrance to the park, by the center, there is an Osage Orange/Hedge Apple tree (Maclura pomifera). Though not generally considered an edible, this was one of those plants I was looking forward to finding, if only for the ease of identification. But also because this shrub has played an important role in American history, being used by early wester settlers to create boundaries for animals, and later as part of FDR's plan to control the dustbowl.

Osage orange can grow very densely, when heavily pruned, and the plant grows large (2" plus) thorns on it's branches. Before the use of barbed wire, hedgerows of osage orange were planted, and pruned till they could contain a bull within the pasture! Later, as their use died down, FDR attempted to revitalize them as windbreaks, as a measure to help stop the erosion of the prairie during the dustbowl. Osage orange wood also produced some of the most highly-valued bows, it's denser than the densest oakwood around!

I say not generally considered an edible. According to Green Deane, though the fruit is inedible, the seeds are--and taste rather like sunflower seeds.

Would I try them? Well, possibly. As I have said in other posts, I generally only eat something if I get confirmation from 3+ reliable sources that it's safe. However, Deane is one of my top trusted sources. More importantly, no source lists the plant as poisonous--just inedible. That's a big difference. If some sources said it was dangerous, I would probably not be willing to consume on just Deane's word.

To be honest, I would be more likely to avoid eating because getting the seeds out of the fruit seems like such a hassle. The easiest way apparently involves soaking the fruit, and essentially encouraging it to rot away. Gross.

Giant Puffball -- edible when found like the left

With all the rain we've had, it's no surprise that fungi were pretty abundant. What did surprise me was the number of giant puffballs. It's hard to tell from these pictures, but these mushrooms were generally baseball (the left mushroom) to softball (the top right) sized. I've personally never encountered giant puffballs in the woods before, so these would appear to be a variety I'm unfamiliar with.

If I'm unfamiliar, how do I know they're edible? Giant puffballs are pretty easy to ID, with no deadly look-a-likes, as long as you are careful about the size (they need to be baseball size or larger).
  • Baseball size or larger
  • Round "Ball" shape, more or less spherical, but occasionally shaped like an upside-down pear. 
  • No gills or traditional stem
  • Inside of the ball is a soft, even-consistency, more or less resembling mozzarella cheese or tofu
  • Inside has no other shapes within, everything looks exactly the same
  • Inside needs to be firmly spongy--not powdery
  • Inside should be pure white. Not purple, brown or yellow
  • Outside should feel like human skin, but thinner. Easily curable with a  fingernail. It shouldn't feel leathery or need pressure to cut with a fingernail.
  • If upside-down pear shaped, the inside of the base resembles the inside of the ball. It doesn't have a different color, texture, consistency or looked lined in anyway. 
Did I eat these? No. First off we were in a protected environment. Second, only one of them (the left) was still in good condition. The others were all like the top, where the insides had already turned to powdery spores--no longer edible; or like the bottom, quite obviously beyond their time and starting to rot. 

Greenbriar (Smilax variety., possibly Smilax bona-nox). Tender portions are edible, watch for the thorns.

Next we found a Greenbriar plant. Greenbriars (Smilax being the Latin/Scientific name) are another pretty easy ID, even though I personally have never eaten one. 
  • Grows as a vine* or tendril-laden shrub (see below)
  • Palmately-veined. This is to say that the veins all come out of a central point in the center of the bottom of the leaf, where it joins with the petiole (leaf stem). Imagine a palm-tree, where all the fronds come out of one central point. That's where the name comes from.
  • Heart-shaped, spade-shaped or oval leaves. These technically classify as heart-shaped, though they are a bit wonky.
  • Vines will have tendrils. In this picture, the tendrils aren't well shown, but you can see one wrapping around the stalk, under the leaf on the right. There is another to the left of the leaf in the left pic. It's important to check that the tendrils are coming from the same plant. 
  • Briars or thorns on the plant. According to Merriwether's Foraging Texas, greenbriars are the only plants with both tendrils and thorns, so make sure you find both. These thorns are what give greenbriar (also called catbriar) the briar part of their name. 
* Technically, Smilax are climbing shrubs, which means they can support their own weight and grow on their own, but they don't like to. Like most of us, they prefer to be lazy and let someone else support them--which is why most of the time you will see them growing vine-like, draped up and over other plants.

Greenbriars were one of the plants I was also excited to see here. I have only ever encountered them near highways and other places I wouldn't want to give them a try. Of course, I couldn't harvest them here either, but still its an encouraging sign. I didn't know of any with mottled leaves, but I checked on a couple of plant ID Facebook groups, and they reassured me that this was a healthy plant, that's just the way they are in this part of Texas.

The growing tips are the edible portion (not shown), and you can also eat the fruit (but not the seeds) and the starch from the roots, if you are so inclined. Foraging Texas gives more in-depth information.

Finally, we found a ton of these coral mushrooms.

I suspect they might be crown-tipped corals, (Artomyces pyxidatus, formerly known as Clavicorona pyxidata). Crown-tipped corals are an edible variety which I have greatly enjoyed in the past.

They branch like crown-tips I have seen in the past, but there are some things which gave me pause.

First, they are much darker than the crown-tips I am used to. I am not sure if that is due to age, but crown-tips should be a pale, creamy yellow--not this mustardy shade. Second, they are growing on the ground. . .or not. Crown-tips exclusively grow on dead wood. And these appear to be growing on the ground, but they are actually growing on the wood chips, which would technically be dead wood. However, I personally haven't ever encountered crown-tips on wood chips, so I'm not 100%.

So that's it for edibles and potential edibles from our first real hike. Below are some other pictures and IDs of non-edible plants you might find interesting. 

Boletus sensibilis. Toxic

Ganoderma variety, non-edible, but medicinal

Gorgeous ombre some vine (I am corrected, it is not poison ivy)


  1. Great article. I live minutes from Joe Pool and wanted to learn about edibles in the area.

    1. Hey if you're looking for more, check out this article:

      And, now that early spring is winding down, I'll be doing one for mid-spring soon!

      And I'm working on a post about how to eat bastard cabbage, a Texas invasive

  2. Who can identify a possible truffle I have. No mushroom shape at all. It's firm and a strong mushroom like smell. I can send photos 817-313-3190

    1. Hi! I actually have no experience with Truffles. Do you live in Texas? As dar as I know, none of the choice edible truffles grow in this state, but there are many truffle-like fungi living under the soil in every state.

      I would recommend creating a reddit account and trying there are several professional mycologists (fungi specialists) on that board, and if you follow the rules, they are very helpful with ID.

      You will need several pictures, location, time of year found, and information about the surrounding area. Particularly which trees it was near--true truffles only grow with certain trees.

      Hope this helps!