What You Should Know
Cordyceps capitate is found mainly in conifer woodland, particularly with spruce trees. Growing from underground False Truffles Elaphomyces granulatus and other members of the same genus, this parasitic ascomycete is easily overlooked in mossy woodlands or areas deep in needle litter when it's brown cap hardly protrudes through the surface. Excavate the long yellow stem and you always find an underground (hypogeous) fungus, sometimes with several C. capitate fungi emerging from it.
This mushroom is considered inedible due to its hard consistency, lackluster taste, and strange appearance, but Chinese people eat them.
In the stroma of Cordyceps capitate, appearing during the period of fruiting above the "captured" elaphomyceses, ergotamine is contained, the concentration of which is sometimes quite sufficient to cause an ergotism-like psychotropic reaction in the human body if a small amount of mushrooms is ingested.
Other names: Drumstick Truffleclub, Head Like Cordyceps.
Cordyceps capitata Mushroom Identification
The cap/head is 0.5-2 cm broad, nearly round to convex or slightly conical. The cap’s color can be dark reddish-brown to brown; dark-olive brown, and even black. The cap has a rough appearance, with tiny pimples. The flesh inside the cap is white.
1.5-8 cm long, 0.2-1.5 cm thick. Usually, it is of equal width, sometimes slightly flattened, often with bends or curves. It sometimes will fork into two ‘heads’. The stalk is tough, yellow to yellow-ochre to yellow-olive, although it will sometimes be darker in old age.
Threadlike, hyaline, and smooth under a microscope. 8-32 x 1.5-3 microns.
Solitary, tufted, or gregarious on the ground. They are usually more scattered around, however. These parasitic fungi grow from underground deer truffles (Elaphomyces species).
Cordyceps capitata Taxonomy and Etymology
Danish naturalist Theodor Holmskjold (1732 - 1794) described this parasitic fungus in 1790, giving it the binomial scientific name Sphaeria capitata.
It was German mycologist Johann Heinrich Friedrich Link (1767 - 1850) who in 1833 renamed it Cordyceps capitata, which to the present day remains its widely-accepted scientific name, although some mycologists now refer to the Drumstick Truffleclub as Elaphocordyceps capitata (Holmsk.) G.H. Sung, J.M. Sung & Spatafora.
Other synonyms of Cordyceps capitata include Torrubia capitata (Holmsk.) Cooke, Sphaeria capitata Holmsk., and Cordyceps canadensis Ellis & Everh.
The generic name Cordyceps comes from two Latin words: the cord- part means a club, and the suffix -ceps means head. So club-head fungi they must surely be. The specific epithet capitata comes from Latin and means 'having a head'. The binomial is somewhat tautologous, therefore, as its literal translation is 'club-head fungus with a head'!
Photo 1 - Author: Jason Hollinger (Attribution 2.0 Generic)
Photo 2 - Author: Jason Hollinger (Attribution 2.0 Generic)
Photo 3 - Author: Jason Hollinger (Attribution 2.0 Generic)