Alien fungi: The mushrooms with dripping ink
Zhao Ying

Since humans began to write and paint, ink has been widely used and made from various interesting materials. Besides from plants and minerals, our ancestors made inks from the secretions of squid and octopus. But did you know some mushrooms can also produce a black liquid used as ink?

The shaggy ink cap (Coprinus comatus) might look normal when it is young and fresh. The white cylindrical cap is covered with fluffy scales, resembling a lawyer's wig. Its scientific name, "comatus", just comes from its "hairy" outlook. 

Shaggy ink caps (Coprinus comatus) in tufts. /VCG

Shaggy ink caps (Coprinus comatus) in tufts. /VCG

In China, the young shaggy ink cap is often cooked in dishes, and called "jituigu." In Chinese, "jitui" means "drumstick." It gets the name for its drumstick-like shape and a taste similar to chicken.

If it is not eaten quickly or stored in ice after being picked, the mushroom will turn black and liquefy. The same happens when it gets older because the black liquid is laden with spores. By dissolving itself, the shaggy ink cap will spread its spores and start a new round of the life cycle.

Two shaggy ink caps. /VCG

Two shaggy ink caps. /VCG

Another well-known ink cap, also a member of the genus Coprinus, has the special ability to generate ink, and is known as the common ink cap (Coprinopsis atramentaria). 

The black liquid that this mushroom produces was once truly used as ink. The latin word "atramentaria" in its scientific name means "ink", indicating its function. 

Three dissolved shaggy ink caps. /VCG

Three dissolved shaggy ink caps. /VCG

Although the common ink cap sounds "common", the shaggy ink cap is actually much more commonly found. The common ink cap usually grows in clusters in grasslands and meadows from late spring to autumn. It is even seen bursting through asphalt, showing its strong vitality.

A common ink cap. /VCG

A common ink cap. /VCG

The common ink cap is also edible before it flattens and deliquesces. However, don't eat it while drinking alcohol. If you happen to consume both, you may feel nausea, vomit, or even tingly in your limbs, depending on how much you drink. But if you stop, the symptoms will disappear in about two or three hours. Thus, the common ink cap is nicknamed "the tippler's bane."

Alien Fungi

What is the most ancient land-based life after the bacteria? Fungi! As an industrious decomposer in the natural world, fungi have existed for almost a billion years, at least 500 million years older than the first land plants. In the series "Alien Fungi," CGTN will explore some peculiar-looking fungi with alien features and see how they enjoy their eternal, cryptic lives on damp floors, decaying wood and hidden areas.

Read more:

Coral mushroom: The corals of the land

Do you dare to eat these violet mushrooms?

Death cap: The deadly fungi with a harmless look

Fly agaric: The mushroom that inspired 'Alice in Wonderland' creators

Bioluminescent fungi: The mushrooms that glow in the dark

Bridal veil stinkhorn: A girlish mushroom that loves to wear 'skirt'

Bird's nest fungi: Dandelion-like drifting life

Barometer Earthstar: The fallen star praying for moisture

(All images via VCG)

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