Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Healthy green marinara with sow thistle


Those of you who follow me on Instagram might remember seeing the image I shared of my green marinara sauce last March, when I promised a recipe to follow on my blog soon. 

And then I did not do that. 

But better late than never, as they say. A warmer than usual February has triggered the earliest spring plants to sprout, including one of my annual favorites, prickly sow thistle. 


Early spring prickly sow thistle, picked last Friday


That vivid green color is all natural

I really, really love this recipe. Unlike a pesto, this is completely vegan (unless you add cheese on top). It's also low in fat, since oil isn't a key ingredient. And each serving is also a full serving of leafy vegetables! That last point is especially important since sow thistle is incredibly nutritious, rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, selenium and a number of important vitamins. 

It's really surprising how creamy this sauce is, considering that it has no cream, milk, coconut milk or cheese. 






Green Marinara With Wild Foraged Sow Thistle

Makes enough for 16oz. of pasta, feeds 4-6, ready in 20 minutes

Note: If no prickly sow thistle is available, substitute with swiss chard or spinach 

A heaping colander is the right amount

  • 6 cups of prickly sow thistle leaves and young stems, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium sweet yellow or white onion, diced
  • 1 heaping tsp. Better Than Bouillon roasted garlic flavor
  • 2 tbs. + 1 tbs. olive oil or butter 
  • 1 tbs. flour
  • Crushed red pepper flakes, optional
  • Salt 
  • Pasta or roasted veggies, to serve
  • Grated cheese or vegan cheese, to serve, optional
  1. Add sow thistle to a large stockpot and add enough water to cover. Salt lightly and bring to a boil. 
  2. In a separate stockpot, start to prepare your pasta according to package directions.
  3. After the sow thistle has boiled for 5 minutes and is tender, drain but do not throw out the nutrient-rich water. 
  4. Add the diced onion to the stockpot where the sow thistle was, add 1 tbs. of olive oil or butter, and sauté until translucent and soft. Add the onion to the drained sow thistle. 
    The ideal consistency

  5. Heat 2 tbs. oil or butter in the stockpot, mix in the flour, creating a roux. Return the onion, the sow thistle and around 2 cups of the reserved cooking liquid to the stockpot. 
  6. Over medium heat, gently sauté the sow thistle mix with the roasted garlic bouillon and the crushed red pepper flakes, if using.
  7. Use a hand mixer to blend together all the ingredients. Test for flavor, adding more salt, garlic or red pepper flakes, if needed. (I didn't think it needed any more salt). 
  8. Serve tossed with pasta or as a sauce over roasted veggies or grilled meat. Sprinkle with grated cheese, if desired. 
The first few times I made this dish I ate it only with pasta, and that's still the way I like it best, as other flavors can overwhelm it somewhat. But it's also delicious tossed with leftover roast chicken breast, or with fresh, sauteed, winter oyster mushrooms, like I made it this year. 

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Foraging prickly sow thistle: pictures, flowers, leaves & identification for Sonchus asper

Latin Name: Sonchus asper
Common Names: Prickly sow thistle, spiny sow thistle, sharp sow thistle, rough milk thistle
Season: Early spring
Edible: Yes 
Flavor: Good
Medicinal and nutritional value: Vitamin rich, antioxidant strong, liver and kidney purifying 
Identification difficulty: Beginner


The leaves of this plant are at a good stage for harvest

Despite the texture, prickly sow thistle is one of the edible wild plants I look forward to the most every spring. 

If you can work around the prickles, which is easy enough to do when planning dishes that need to be pureed (like sauces and soups), you are rewarded with a wonderfully rich leafy green. The flavor is generally very mild with only a slight bitterness, comparable to swiss chard or belgian endive, to add complexity. Most everyone who eats leafy greens will enjoy properly prepared prickly sow thistle. 

Perhaps even better, prickly sow thistle is extremely common 



Nutritional & medicinal benefits

The sow thistle family (Sonchus) is one of the ones where a significant amount of research has been done into nutrition and potential medicinal benefits. Sow thistles have long been accepted as health foods, associated with liver and kidney purification. 

Recent studies have shown that the sow thistles, particularly the prickly sow thistle, are antioxidant powerhouses. Antioxidants have been shown to reduce the effects of aging, both on the body and mind. They also lower your cancer risk. 

While antioxidant extractions are available in pills, syrups, etc., studies show that the best way to gain the positive effects of antioxidants might simply be to incorporate a large number of antioxidant-rich foods into your diet. 

All three sow thistles were found to be rich dietary fiber and in vitamin E, though smooth sow thistle (Sonchus arvensis) had the highest concentrations. Like most leafy greens, sow thistles have a lot of valuable minerals, including potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, sodium and selenium. Smooth sow thistle is the best of the 3 for potassium, common sow thistle has the highest concentration of iron and prickly sow thistle offers the most calcium. 

As an added bonus, sow thistles DO NOT have large amounts of oxalic acid, even though they exhibit red coloration. They contain less than 10% of the oxalic acid found in spinach or swiss chard, for example, and less than 5% of the oxalic acid in purslane. 

To learn more about the antioxidant properties of prickly sow thistle, check out this article from the National Library of Medicine. 

To learn more about the nutritional qualities of the sow thistle genus, please read this article from the National Library of Medicine. 


History as a food crop

There are three, common, wide-spread sow thistles: Common sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus), prickly sow thistle (Sonchus asper) and smooth sow thistle (Sonchus arvensis). They are native to Europe, particularly the Mediterranean regions. They are now found throughout temperate North and South America, Australia and New Zealand, the Middle East, and much of Asia and Africa. 

Despite the name, common sow thistle is not the most common, at least not in my North American experience; perhaps in the Mediterranean it is. In the Northeast US, I found common sow thistle and prickly sow thistle found in about even amounts, but here in Texas, prickly sow thistle is everywhere, and common sow thistle is . . .well, quite uncommon. Smooth sow thistle, arguably the most difficult to identify when young, seems to be the least common. 

A good-sized haul of prickly sow thistle leaves,
ready to cook and eat

Our earliest record of sow thistles as a food comes from the ancient Greeks, who considered it to be strengthening, and used the non-prickly varieties in salads, especially during winter time when greens were scarce.

Europeans in the middle ages valued the sow thistles for animal feed. The name "sow thistle" comes from farmers feeding the plant to sows with piglets; it was believed that this plant increased lactation.

As traditional agriculture became the standard in Europe and European colonies, like the U.S., sow thistles came to be regarded as common weeds, and a great deal is spent to eradicate them. 

But that is not always the case in areas where sow thistles have spread. 

As European agricultural practices spread with colonization, many native species of plants, which were essential food sources for the native peoples, were wiped out. Eurasian plant species had evolved a centuries-long history of competition, due to exposure to other plant species spread via trade routes. As a general rule, these plants could out-compete native species, which is why dandelions, plantains, sow thistles and others are considered common weeds today. 

But many native peoples have embraced the "weeds" traditional agriculture rejects, and have used them to supplement or replace native plants that have been decimated. Sow thistles in particular are consumed by the Māori of New Zealand and the by the native peoples of the rural Brazilian rainforest regions.

In addition to the three most wide-spread sow thistles there are many regional species, especially in Africa and some hype-local species in places like the Canary Islands, some of which are used for food. 


Prickly sow thistle identification

Note: the entire above-ground portion of the plant is edible. 

Prickly sow thistle at the perfect stage for harvesting leaves

Growth season & features

An early basal rosette, the raised leaves are good
for harvesting
Sow thistles are annual plants that begin their growing season as a basal rosette in early spring. A basal rosette is when leaves create a circle on the ground around a central attachment to the root system below. In Texas this is usually early March but can be mid-February in mild winters. In the Northeast I generally found them in mid-April. 

The plant will very quickly grow raised leaves from the rosette that stretch upward. This is the best time to gather the leaves, when they aren't against the ground (the leaves on the ground tend to be tough and fibrous) but before the stalk is branching. 

I also harvest the leaves when the central stalk has formed but is young, 4-6 inches long, even if it already has flower buds. But once the plant starts branching the leaves usually loose flavor and become stringy. 


This plant to the left is already branching at the top. The leaves will generally be less flavorful at this stage, but this plant seemed to be unusually healthy and well-watered, and some of the leaves were still tender and not stringy. 

If left unchecked, prickly sow thistle can grow to around 3' 6" tall (about a meter), but will most often be under half that height in areas that are mowed or otherwise landscaped. 

Not every plant will produce branches though all will produce a cluster of flower stalks at the top of the central stem, if allowed to grow long enough. 




Leaf shape & features 

The leaves are the most important Identification feature for prickly sow thistle. 

Leaf progression. When very young (left), the leaves are spoon-shaped and not lobed.
As the plant matures the leaves will become increasingly large, dark, lobed and the prickles will become more defined. All of these leaves are from a young plant. 

The lower leaves in the basal rosette are deeply lobed

Each leaf in the basal rosette stage is long and narrow, about 3 times as long as it is wide. The leaves are deeply lobed, which means they appear to have cut outs on the sides; they somewhat resemble dandelion leaves. 


Leaves from a 8" tall plant, dark green and
purple, from cold expos


The leaves are generally bright green but will be darker in cooler weather. If they are exposed to near freezing conditions during their growth they will have red or purple zones, or even become purple entirely. This isn't a concern for the forager, as the purple leaves are just as edible. The central midvein of the leaf is thick, well-defined and white but will turn pink, red or purple in cold weather. 

The leaves on the upper stalk or branching stems are a different shape from the leaves at the base. These grow as teardrops, are not deeply lobed, and the rounded base clasps around the stem. These leaves are smaller, less flavorful and often papery. 

Leaves as they appear on the upper stalk or branching stems.

The entire margin (edge) of each leaf is rimmed with prickles where the leaf pinches itself together into soft spikes. Unlike thorns, prickles are not especially hard, and will bend easily if presses. When touching them I would describe the sensation as prickly (lol) rather than painful. 

This is one way to distinguish a sow thistle from a true thistle as true thistles have hard spines or spikes on the leaf edge that will pierce the skin if pressed. But more on that in the look-a-like section below. 

While in the elevated basal rosette shape, the prickles on the leaves create rather beautiful fractal patterns as viewed from above. 



Stem/stalk features


The central stalk of the plant is hollow, ribbed or lined on the outside, translucent green, patched or streaked with red/pink and exudes copious amounts of thick, opaque white sap when damaged. This sap will oxidize when exposed to air and turn the plant matter brown. 

One important ID feature of prickly sow thistle is that the stalk will snap easily and cleanly, rather than bending or stretching. 



Flower & buds

What appears to us as a single yellow flower is actually many dozens of ray flowers clustered together into a single flower head. Sow thistle flowers closely resemble dandelion flowers, and, like dandelions, this clustered growth will ensure each flower releases dozens of seeds, which will also turn into fluffy white tufts to be born away by the wind. 

Unlike dandelion flower heads, which contain so many individual ray flowers that they bend back over themselves and their seed stage resembles a sphere, sow thistle heads always resemble a disc or an 80s flattop hairstyle. You can easily see the green bracts from which the flowers come below, and the seed head will only ever be a half-sphere. 

In this image, the yellow circled are flower buds,
while the rest are spent flower heads.

The plant will almost always produce multiple flower heads from the central stalk and if conditions are ideal will also have several branches each ending in multiple flower heads. 

The flower buds are shaped like fat hourglasses and will be tightly tucked in on the top, with no yellow or white showing until right before blooming. The spent flowers most often look like teardrops or diamonds and will usually have a tuft of darkening yellow at one end.

From left to right: youngest bud, mature bud, bud about to open, spent flower,
spent flower beginning to close, fully closed spent flower

After growing as a bud, blooming, and tucking the flowers back into the calyx in a teardrop, the spent flower will once again re-open to release the seeds which are at the base of white cottony tufts, denser and more opaque than those of a dandelion. 

A healthy, well-developed plant might have 4-7 flowers, 2-4 spent flowers and a dozen or more buds simultaneously, and will continue to bud and flower throughout the growing season unless the plant is cut or the weather becomes too hot or dry. In the Northeast, un-mowed sow thistles would often survive until the frosts in October, but here in Texas they generally die off in late spring, June at the latest. 

Friday, October 6, 2023

What's this yellow mushroom growing in my houseplant or garden

Nothing edible to share today, but I wanted to make a post about a mushroom that gets asked about all the time on Reddit and Instagram.  

The question "What is this yellow mushroom growing in my house plant / planter / garden?" is one I see every day, and today I'm here to answer it.

95% of the time you are looking at Leucocoprinus birnbaumii, sometimes called the yellow parasol mushroom, the painted dapperling, or the flowerpot parasol. Yes, it's so common in flower pots that it actually has that in the common name. The other 5% of the time you might be looking at the closely related Leucocoprinus straminellus, which is generally a paler shade of yellow, or Leucocoprinus flavescensm which generally has a brown area in the center of the cap.

Both L. birnbaumii and straminellus are tropical or subtropical mushrooms, so finding them in nature in the continental US, Canada or northern Mexico is extremely rare, but extremely common in potting and gardening soil. This is most likely due to the common usage of tropical materials, like orchid bark, in purchased soils. These organic materials may be contaminated with L. birnbaumii spores which then grow mushrooms when conditions are warm enough.

For most North Americans this means late spring, summer or early fall, but if you have a greenhouse, the yellow parasol might pop up anytime. 

Bell shaped when young


Yellow parasol mushroom description 

A bright, dainty mushroom that's yellow all over, cap, stalk and gills. L. birnbaumii is bright yellow and L. straminellus is pale or whitish yellow.

The cap shape starts out as a bell or cone or occasionally a marshmallow shape, then expands to an umbrella, and then the classic, nearly flat, parasol shape. When in the umbrella stage, the edges of the cap generally have fine striations (lines) and the cap will have small fibrous or warty raised areas all over, and the middle area will usually be raised -- this is called an umbo. At maturity, the cap will be anywhere from 1.5" to 3.5" in diameter. 

The stems are narrow near the cap and thicker at the base, even somewhat bulbous as they enter the soil. The stems will usually feature a ring, sometimes a double ring. The mushroom should be 2" to 3.5" high at maturity, but might be as tall as 4.5" in rarer cases. 


Is the yellow parasol mushroom poisonous or edible?

Reports are conflicting on whether L. birnbaumii is toxic, but it definitely should NOT be eaten. Many  Leucocoprinus species are severe sickeners, and symptoms can be dangerous. 


Is the yellow parasol mushroom dangerous for my plants?

The mushroom itself is not dangerous for the plant it's growing beside, in fact, it might be beneficial. Mushrooms like these are good at helping to convert raw organic matter in the soil into nutrients in a form that's easier for plants to absorb. The mushroom mycelium eat the organic matter, grow the mushroom and then when the mushroom decays, it breaks down into food for the plants. 

Mushroom "roots", called mycelium are actually the part of the fungus that is alive. The mushroom itself is a fruit, but the mycelium (which look like microscopic roots) are actually the organism. These mycelium are very good at improving the texture and density of the soil, they help break it up on a microscopic level, allowing better movement of moisture and air, in a way that's really beneficial for plants. 

However, if the plant you are growing is a food plant, like the basil in my pictures above, you want to make sure you rinse it thoroughly so that none of the potentially toxic spores are on the food when you ingest it. A good solid rain after the mushrooms are gone will take care of this as well!

Finally, if you see these mushrooms on indoor plants, especially succulents or cacti, they might be an indicator that you are watering too much. Mushrooms prefer a moist environment and so generally will not show up in a the pot of a desert-loving plant, unless that plant is getting too much water or not enough drainage.  




Should I remove the yellow parasol mushroom from my plant pots or garden?

If you have small children or pets you think might eat the yellow parasol mushroom, you should remove them from the pots, otherwise there is no harm in leaving them be. If you do choose to pick out the mushrooms, you won't be doing any harm to the mycelium underground, and you will still see many of the benefits of having them in your soil. 

If you live in Hawaii, you may also want to remove Leucocoprinus to help protect the island chain's delicate ecosystem. If you do this, make sure to destroy, rather than dispose, of the mushrooms. 


How long will these mushrooms stick around, and will they come back?

It generally takes 1-3 days for yellow parasol mushrooms to reach their full size, but after that they will decay in another 1-2 days. The fungus itself is not winter-hardy in most of the continental USA or Canada, and being left outside for a winter will most likely kill it, especially in smaller pots. If you bring your plants inside for the winter, or if you live in the Southern states, you can probably expect to see them again next season. 

The mycelium will continue to send up fruiting bodies (mushrooms) as long as they are alive and getting enough nutrients to do so. When the organic matter they prefer is gone, the mycelium will die or go dormant. This doesn't mean that your plant needs more nutrition, necessarily, since what feeds a mushroom and what feeds a plant aren't exactly the same things, however, it does mean that the soil is not quite as rich as before. If you add fertilizer, they might pop back up. 


Can the yellow parasol become invasive?

Throughout most of the US and Canada, no, this mushroom is far too cold-sensitive to risk becoming an invasive species. Even in the Southern states, where it might survive, it's unlikely to become invasive because it has a lot of competition that is already established here. Some small colonies might be found in the wild, but they will find a suitable ecological niche. Hawaii, with it's more delicate ecosystem, may be at greater risk. 

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Foraging: How to identify edible wild plant Horseweed. Abundant and easy to ID

 



Horseweed, also known as Erigeron canadensis and formerly as Conyza canadensis, is a widespread, native, edible wild plant in the greater Aster family, Asteraceae. In some areas it's known as fleabane, butterweed, mare's tail or colt's tail.  

It's incredibly abundant as it grows natively in the 48 continental states, and has been introduced into Alaska and Hawaii. In Canada, you can find it all throughout British Columbia and P.E.I. and along the southern edges of every Provence except Labrador, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. It can be found throughout Mexico and in most of the non-island Central American Countries.

It's almost certainly in your neighborhood. 

Horseweed patch from my yard, early May

Horseweed gets little attention in the foraging community, with no really good reason as to why. It's easy to identify, less bitter than the well-known dandelion or plantain, more flavorful than clover, and provides more food than wood sorrel. Despite this, horseweed is only barely mentioned, while those others are brought up every season. 

Perhaps it's because horseweed has an unpleasant tendency to grow in some of the least savory of places, including out of sewer grates in the middle of dense and dirty cities. In fact, while I will often find a plant or two on my neighborhood stroll, I often find horseweed growing most densely and abundantly in urban environments: city parking lots, sewers and underneath highway overpasses. 

Horseweed is actually quite popular in the survivalist communities, though not as food! But more on that later. 

Fortunately, a large patch recently chose to grow right in my own yard! So I've finally been able to see what all the fuss is about, and, let me tell you, this is one tasty little (actually, BIG) weed!


Horseweed taste; edible and medicinal uses

When plants are quite young, 3-4 inches, you can use the whole plant. The central stem gets tough and stringy very quickly, after the plants are around 5 inches high, you will only want to use the leaves. Once the plant is over a foot high or so, you will only want to use the leaves at or near the top, the rest will be dry and flavorless. Once the plant is flowering, it's no longer good for food. 

Apparently horseweed is most commonly steeped as a tea, though I only recently tried it that way.

Horseweed can also be used as a flavorful herb, which is how I've been applying it. Simply strip the leaves off the central stalk, chop and add to your dish. I would describe the flavor as being a bit like oregano, but with a freshness like parsley, some almost citrusy brightness and, at the back of the pallet, some anise or tarragon flavor. For me this taste only ever comes at the end of the meal, which is interesting. 

Once the flower stems form the leaves are no longer flavorful, but you can harvest the flower buds. These can be added directly into dishes as a vegetable, or pickled if you like. Make sure to get the buds and not the post-bloomed flowers. 

Horseweed lends itself to Italian and Indian dishes for sure and I'm looking to branch out further in my experimentation. 




Horseweed identification

Growth and Stem features

  • Hairy stalk
    Horseweed grows as a single, straight central stalk, no branching until flowering
  • Horseweed can grow up to 8 feet tall, but will most often flower between 4 and 5 feet, though you won't want to be harvesting when it gets that old
  • When fully grown, the stalk will develop a hollow core, but again, you probably won't want to eat the plant at that stage. 
  • The stalk is quite hairy, and have shallow vertical grooves or striations running up the whole length
  • The leaves grow directly off the stem on slender petioles (leaf stems), no fibrous stems
  • The leaves rotate around the stalk as they grow, they do not grow in opposite pairs




Horseweed leaves | Left: young leaf, still a little rounded
Center: assorted mature leaves to show variations
Right: leaf detail to show barbs

Leaf features

Hairy leaf underside and edges,
also note the veins that run parallel to the leaf edge
  • Horseweed leaves are lanceolate, which is to say they are much longer than they are wide; they will become even more so as they age
  • Like the stalk, the leaves also have hair, though only on the underside and around the edge of the leaf, not on the top side.
  • Horseweed leaves are sometimes described as serrated (like the edge of a saw or a bread knife), but I think this is misleading; rather, they have occasional "barbs" on the leaf edges, anywhere from 2-6 per leaf, (older leaves can have 8)
  • These barbs start out as small triangles, but will develop a more fish-hook shape as the leaf ages and grows larger
  • One of the best identification features is the randomness of these barbs; almost every leaf will be unique in number of barbs, unique barb positioning, and unique barb size
  • All leaves will have prominent veins that run parallel to the central vein, and to the leaf edges; this is easier to see on the underside of the leaves

Flowers

  • Before flower buds form, horseweed will start to grow lots of small stems/branches at the top of the stalk. These stems will be 4-12" or so long, and will vary in length with the height of the plant.
  • Once these stems form, the plant is no longer good for food as the leaves will become papery and flavorless
  • If you are familiar with the aster family as a whole, horseweed has very typical aster flowers - the petals are so narrow they almost appear like hairs or lashes around the bloom
  • The petals are white and the centers are yellow
  • Each flower is about the size of an American or Canadian dime
  • Once bloomed, the flowers will turn into puff heads, similar to dandelion's, but smaller


Look-a-like plants

Note: as long as you are careful about looking for hair, there are no poisonous look-a-likes for horseweed, though there may be allergens that effect some people strongly, even dangerously, on an individual basis. 

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Train wrecker or scaly sawgill. Wild edible mushroom identification




Behold Neolentinus lepideus, commonly known as the scaly sawgill or, in a somewhat antiquated use, the train-wrecker mushroom. If you are using older guidebooks (pre 1985) the Latin name will be listed as Lentinus lepideus. 

Though most commonly called the scaly sawgill, I simply love the drama of the name train wrecker, so that's what I'll be using here.
Just look at all that dense, bug-free mushroomy goodness

The train wrecker is edible, though often downplayed, invalidated and ignored. Called tough, woody, fibrous and bland, it's passed over for more popular late spring and early summer delights.

But that's a shame, because the train wrecker is, when SUPER fresh, not at all tough or woody and while it's not one of the most flavorful mushrooms, it's amazingly dense, meaty texture more than makes up for that fact. 

Also, this mushroom is only rarely attacked by insects.

The train wrecker can also grow quite large, providing quite a lot of food. Across North America it's rather uncommon, but can be regionally abundant.  If you are foraging in forests east of the Rockies that identify as "Piney Woods",  (New Jersey Pine Barens, Texas Piney Woods, etc), during the rainy season, there is a strong likelihood of encountering this mushroom, even if you aren't looking for it. 

N. lepideus can also be found in Western Europe, though apparently much less abundantly.


Train wrecker mushroom identification

Growth habits 

  • Found exclusively on dead conifer wood or stumps, especially pine, most often east of the Rocky Mountains
  • Note: The train-wrecker can also be found on cut logs and boards, both treated and untreated, especially west of the Rocky Mountains. These should not be consumed. The mushroom can pick-up toxins from the treatment and pass them on to you. Only eat mushrooms found growing on natural materials, in areas that seem unpolluted. 
  • Grows individually or in clusters of caps from a single stem



Cap and size 

  • This is a large mushroom. Caps range in diameter from 3" to 10". 
  • Cap is white, beige, yellow or even orange in the middle, and generally lighter means fresher.
  • The cap of N. lepideus has dark, chocolate- or amber- brown scales in the center. 

Gills 

  • The gills for the train wrecker are often described as serrated, or saw-toothed, but I don't personally like this description, as it implies triangular shapes that are fairly evenly sized and distributed.
  • To me, the gill edges are like torn paper, or the edges of very old books; they are jagged, irregular and often feature square shapes or small nicks.
  • Gills are moderately spaced, which means there is generally a gill-space in-between two adjacent gills.
  • The gills attach to the stalk (which is technically called a stipe), and are often decurrant (they extend down somewhat onto the mushroom stalk).


Stem/Stipe

  • The stipe (mushroom stem) for N. lepideus is quite distinctive. 
  • Stem features fibrous scales, facing upwards towards the cap (unusual), which peal backwards towards the base of the mushroom.
  • Fibrous scales start out as white, but will turn dark brown quickly, especially at the base
  • When broken or cut, the stem is like a thick, dense cotton in texture.
  • The stem is pretty much the same thickness along the whole length, it doesn't really taper, and is only wider at the base if it joins to other mushrooms. 
  • Clusters of caps can share a stem at the base, but the base may be buried in the wood, making stems appear separate.