Brownish gray cap with whitish to pinkish gills and a whitish stalk. Grows singly or scattered, on dead wood or on the ground over buried wood. May–October. Cap convex to flat; brownish gray to dark brown, with darker fibers radiating from the center; texture smooth; tacky when wet. Gills broad; spacing close; white, becoming salmon pink; attachment free. Stalk straight but sometimes curved; may enlarge slightly toward the base; white, can be tinged with black or brown; texture smooth with small fibers; solid. Spore print salmon to brownish pink. Spores magnified are elliptical, smooth.
Lookalikes: A lot of other brownish gray mushrooms, some of which may be poisonous.
Cap width: 1¼–5 inches; stalk length: 2–4 inches; stalk width: ¼–½ inch.
Habitat and Conservation
Single or scattered, on dead wood or on the ground over buried wood.
Edible—with caution. There are many lookalikes, and some of those are poisonous. The fawn mushroom is a common and edible mushroom, but the flavor is not particularly great, and it’s good only when very young.
This species exists most of the time as a network of fungal cells (mycelium) within rotting logs, branches, or roots. The mycelium obtains nourishment by digesting, and rotting, the wood. When ready to reproduce, the mycelium develops mushrooms, which are reproductive structures. Spores are produced in the gills and are released to begin new mycelia elsewhere. The mycelium of a mushroom can live for decades.
Mushrooms have fascinating names that reflect as much on human creativity as on the fungi themselves. This species was named for deer not because of its brown color but because of antlerlike projections on a type of cell in the gills, which you need a microscope to see.
Fungi and their fruiting bodies, mushrooms, are part of our natural environment. Their importance in forest ecosystems is monumental. Besides nourishing forest trees through symbiosis, they are also the wood rotters of the natural world.
Mushrooms are a lot like plants, but they lack chlorophyll and have to take nutrients from other materials. Mushrooms are neither plants nor animals. They are in a different kingdom — the fungi. Fungi include the familiar mushroom-forming species, plus the yeasts, molds, smuts, and rusts.
Always be cautious when eating edible mushrooms. Be absolutely sure of the ID, and only eat a small amount the first time you try it to avoid a reaction..