Whether sifting through sand, or scrambling over a rocky shore, it's about finding treasures in every day. 

Hedgehogs. Edible Mushrooms in Southeast Alaska

This is the last in the mushroom series for this year, and I am finishing with the easy-to-identify hedgehog mushroom.

My friend, Dave, once told me that he had harvested twenty pounds of hedgehog mushrooms in one season. Having never found a hedgehog of any size at that point, I was amazed thinking of the square miles of forest that he must have searched. He just isn't the kind of person that exaggerates! This year, though, I found some large, meaty hedgehogs that filled the mushroom basket more quickly than the tiny belly-button hedgehogs.

The larger hedgehog, Hydnum repandum, may be an inch or two across and and weigh an ounce at best, but it can also pop out of the earth and quickly grow to six or seven inches across. Those big bruisers are meaty, and add a bit of heft to the mushroom basket.

Hedgehog mushroom (Hydnum repandum). This specimen was just over 6" across the cap. 

Teeth on the underside of a hedgehog cap. 

To date I have only found one location where there were six hedgehogs like this, and several smaller ones. Still looking! I might find one here one day, and one there another day. Celebrate if you find just one!

Dave obviously knows where there are lots of them, but he is in another town, so I can't sneak out and tail him to his mushroom patch. Hey, all's fair in love and mushroom hunting.

Repandum's cap color may be light cream, buff, tan, or orangish-tan. It is a firm, meaty mushroom. Under the cap, instead of gills it has teeth. Not Little-Shop-of-Horrors-type teeth, but soft, delicate spines that are white to ivory, turning a little darker with age.

So many spines hanging under the mushroom. It's almost furry looking.

Underside of Hydnum repandum

Keeping those spines clean while collecting mushrooms can be challenging. My hands are usually wet from the drizzle-laden bushes, with berry leaves and hemlock needles stuck to them. Upon finding a hedgehog I first find a patch of thick, green, clean moss to wipe my hands on. Then I brush the needles and any other debris off of the hedgehog's cap. I reach in under it, grasp the stalk between two fingers, pull the hedgehog without turning it over, trim the stalk, and then turn it over and check for any dirt under the cap before placing it carefully into the basket.

It's easy when they look like this. 

Hedgehogs can have a very short stalk, though, and sometimes like to grow in holes.  

Hedgehog mushroom growing in a hole under a tree root. 

Hedgehog mushroom growing in a hole under a tree root. 

Can I get my hand in there and get the mushrooms out without too much damage or dirt? Do I WANT to stick my hand in there??  It looks pretty light with the camera flash, but in real life it is dark and creepy.

You smart mushrooms - you can just stay right there.

Belly-button hedgehogs (Hydnum umbilicatum) seem to like old growth forest or second growth that is over fifty years old. At least that is where I have found them in central Southeast Alaska. This little guy is around an inch across the cap, sometimes more, often less. There is usually a dimple in the cap, right above the stalk, which may be centered or off-center. The belly-button hedgehog makes up for it's lack of bulk with good flavor.

Belly-button hedgehogs (Hydnum umbilicatum

The spines on the belly-button hedgehog don't continue down the stalk like on Hydnum repandum.  Belly-buttons stand up on a fairly straight stalk, though, so are easier to pick. I brush off the cap, then nip them off with a thumbnail that has turned brown from picking and cleaning chanterelles and from processing devil's club root.

It is tough to get a basket full of these. Not only are they small, but I rarely find them in patches. There's one over by that spruce tree, two under the blueberry bushes, and another few a five minute walk away. After a day of walking through the forest, though, there are just enough to saute and have as a treat with dinner.

Below is a photo of hedgehogs that are as small as belly-button hedgehogs, but don't have the dimple. The spines are decurrent (running partway down the stalk), suggesting that this is a small version of Hydnum repandum, the other hedgehog. 

Which brings me to say the same thing that I say on every mushroom post. Don't take my word for it. Don't follow this amateur mushroom hunter out into the woods and believe that I know what I am doing. Some experts have been generous enough to write it all down for us, and the price of a book is so worth it. Here's a few good ones: 

"Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest" by Steve Trudell and Joe Ammirati

"Mushrooms Demystified" by David Arora

"All That the Rain Promises, and More..."  by David Arora

So I might see you out in the woods, and I'll believe you when you say that you found those hedgehogs and chanterelles miles from here if you'll believe that I did, too. 

Happy Hunting, 

Alaska Beachcomber

Other Edible Mushroom Posts: Golden Chanterelles, Winter Chanterelles

More on subsistence food and medicine: