The nomenclature for this basidiomycete mushroom is in a bit of flux. The sources I consulted consider Lepista and Clitocybe to both be valid generic names, and it has flip flopped between the two. But the molecular taxonomists seem to be leaning towards Lepista, so that is what I gave priority. It is colloquially called a blewit (from ‘blue hat’) or a woods blewit.
It’s always fun to find sizable groups of large mushrooms. These older specimens were along a fairly straight line about 10’ long in a patch of red alder on the shoreline of a small, low elevation lake, and were probably atop a soil covered and decomposing log. I found a few dozen springtails from the order Poduromorpha roaming the gills of these specimens, and I assume they were either eating spores or flesh or both. But they were tucked up in there, and I didn’t see them until I flopped down the specimen next to my microscope and jarred several loose. I hope to identify and profile them soon! This is apparently not unusual among fungi, but I thought it was interesting that Lepista nuda has been documented as sending out hyphae to penetrate bacterial colonies to kill them and absorb their nutrients.
Woods blewits are considered to be an edible mushroom, although, as a non-fungivore, I cannot vouch for their taste. They contain a sugar, trehalose, that causes gastric problems for some people. They also contain high levels of antioxidants with free radical scavenging capabilities, meaning it could be useful in preventing diabetes, some heart disease, and the formation of cancerous cells. And an extract of this mushroom has been shown to inhibit microbial growth, and is being explored as a natural food preservative.
Standard fungal disclaimer- the descriptive and similar species information is for recreational identification of mushrooms. If you are thinking of eating it- Do your own research. Buy some books. Do a spore print. Maybe buy a microscope. Make sure that what you are eating is safe to consume. Wild mushrooms should always be cooked, to kill any organisms living on or in them, and to adulterate some toxins which can be rendered harmless by heat. It is a good idea to only eat a small amount of any mushroom your body is not familiar with.
Description-Large (cap may be up to 6” in diameter and the stipe may be up to 4” tall) mushroom with a blue to purplish, convex cap with unrolled margins when young, becoming brownish with lilac tints, and flat to concave with wavy margins, as it ages; cap is smooth to cracked, but never slimy; narrow, tightly spaced, purplish gills attach directly to the stipe; stipe is smooth except for light scurfing near the top, fibrous, bluish, purplish, or brownish, usually with shades of all three; spore print light pink to pinkish beige; spores are warty and elongate, 3.5-5μm wide by 5.5-8μm long; said to smell like frozen orange juice, but I can’t attest to that.
Similar species–Clitocybe brunneocephala is shorter and stockier, and doesn’t have violet tones; other Clitocybe and Lepista are either much smaller or lack blue to purple tones; Laccaria sp. have thicker gills of varying lengths that are not as close together; Cortinarius sp. have reddish brown spore sprint and cobwebby fibers where the stipe meets the cap.
Habitat-Conifer, deciduous, and mixed forests and woodlands; also in urban settings with decaying wood detritus, although it doesn’t grow on logs.
Range-Holarctic; probably region wide in appropriate habitat.
Reproductive timing-Doesn’t fruit until after the first frost, but may produce from fall through spring.
Eaten by-As noted above they are eaten by springtails in the order Entomobryomorpha, as well as many other collembolans; probably also consumed by slugs, snails, and some beetles in the families Leiodidae, Staphylinidae, Endomychidae, Tenebrionidae, and Erotylidae amongst others; probably larvae of flies in Mycetophilidae and Phoridae; and small mammalian herbivores.
Etymology of names–Lepista is from the Latin word for ‘goblet’, and refers to the uplifting of the margins in older specimens, which produces a shallow basin; the specific epithet nuda is from the Latin word for ‘naked’ and probably refers to the smooth, dry cap. Clitocybe is from the Greek words for ‘hillside’ and ‘head’, and possibly refers to them being a fungi of the slopes.