An Earthball Study

Earthballs contain a yellow-brown dye, but also a large and annoying amount of tiny, black spores. So I set out to find out if the spores contain any dye or if they could just be discarded.

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Common earthball, Scleroderma citrinum.

A couple of years ago, I dyed a lot of yarn with earthballs. The color turned out a nice yellowish brown, but the yarn was simply full of spores that continued to drizzle out, both when winding the yarn into skeins and when knitting with it.

The drizzling pores were obviously annoying, but I also started wondering if the spores are even safe to breathe? It’s usually said that earthballs are “moderately toxic”.

In their book “Färgsvampar & svampfärgning” (Dye mushrooms and dyeing),  Lundmark & Marklund label earthballs “good” dye mushrooms, so it would be a pity to give up on earthballs just because of the spore problem. Lundmark & Marklund mention that earthballs contain the dyes badion A, norbadion A, and sclerocitrin.

Sclerocitrin is also described in the research paper “Unusual Pulvinic Acid Dimers from the Common Fungi Scleroderma citrinum (Common Earthball) and Chalciporous piperatus (Peppery Bolete), Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 2004, 43, 1883-1886 by Winner et al. They show that the “brilliant yellow” dye sclerocitrin is found in “remarkable amounts” in earthballs. As the title says, sclerocitrin is also found in peppery boletes. I haven’t looked for it, but a mental note has been made.

Earthballs have a dark or black spore mass inside, surrounded by a relatively thin outer wall. I decided on a small experiment in order to see if the spores contain any dye. If not, it would make sense to just leave them in the forest.

Halved earthballs with grey and black spores inside.

I used as small amount of earthballs for my experiment, gathered during the fall of 2016 and dried until use (2016 was not a good mushroom year, so not many earthballs were to be found).

Separating the spore mass from the mushroom’s outer wall was incredibly difficult. The parts were completely stuck together in the dry mushrooms, but in the end, I had 23 g of out walls and 10-11 g of spores. I soaked both overnight, the outer walls simply by adding water. The spores were stuck together in stone hard lumps that I separated by grinding them in my mortar. The spores repel water, I solved that by wetting them in denatured alcohol, then adding water.

The next day, I boiled the two dye baths and filtered the spore bath through a coffee filter. It took very long for the liquid to run through, that’s always the case when filtering a solution with many tiny particles. I then dyed a 10-gram alum mordanted test skein (Fenris 100% wool) in each bath, and got the result below – almost the same color from the two.

The top skein of yarn in the picture is dyed with the outer walls, the bottom one with the pores. I had hoped to find that the pores didn’t dye, but clearly that’s not the case. In principle, it’s not surprising, though, to find that sclerocitrin and the other pigments are distributed throughout the mushroom. The dark color of the spores is not caused by a pigment that acts as a dye.

In conclusion, all parts of the earthball contains dye, and discarding the pores would mean discarding a lot of good dye. So the best method for earthball dyeing would be using the entire mushroom, wetting the spores with alcohol, and then investing the time required to filter the entire dye bath before any wool is added.

Yarn dyed with different parts of earthballs. The top skein is dyed with the outer walls only, the bottom skein with pores only.

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Mushroom Dyeing of 2015

allesvampefarver2

2015 is history, and it’s now 2016, but I think there’s just time to show you my mushroom dyeing of 2015, which brought a quite nice mushroom harvest.

Fall is my favorite time of year. Always has been. It’s the colors, the scents, and the long forest walks. We go to the same plantation in the northern part of Denmark every year, and this year was no exception. Part of the area has recently been turned into a test center for wind mills, but luckily, the windmills didn’t disturb the mushrooms! And they actually please the eye, the windmills, as they peek over the trees – especially when you consider their part in ensuring that Denmark will actually live up to its climate goal of 40% CO2 reduction in 2020.

windmills

My family already picked mushrooms before I was born, but always for eating, and always from a small, safe repertoire of about 5 species, with the main emphasis on the chanterelle, because it is very tasty and very easy to recognize.

We still hunt for edible mushrooms, and we are even training the next generation. See what an expert chanterelle hunter my 5-year old is:

dagmarkantareller

But these days I also hunt mushrooms for dyeing, and that makes it even more fun to walk in the forest – I always find something interesting! This is the yarn I’ve dyed with mushrooms this fall:

allesvampefarver

I’m really happy with this lot, and I’m thinking about a project where I could use all these colors together.

From right to left, they are dyed with common eartball (brown skeins, 900 g of mushrooms on 150 g of yarn), velvet pax (green-grey), Cortinarius semisanguineus (rose), some mixed Cortinarius ssp (tan).

I don’t know which mushroom the orange skein is dyed with. I didn’t take pictures of it, but I think it was a species of Cortinarius. Here’s the orange skein seen on a page of my big mushroom book with some species that it could possibly be, most of which are really poisonous. It’s hard to tell different types of Cortinarius apart, and some of them very poisonous, so always keep them apart from food mushrooms!

orangeslørhat

The light yellow skeins were dyed with common rustgill (Gymnopilus penetrans). It’s a very common mushroom, and after walking through an entire forest of them, I finally picked some. After trying it in the dyepot, I don’t think it’s a spectacular dye mushroom. There’s a number of ways to achieve this yellow color, and it’s not very abundant in this mushroom.

plettetflammehat

I also found a lot of sulphur tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare) which I find to be a mediocre dye mushroom, since it gives just another yellow, and not even a lot of it.

svovlhat

The last skein is best described as “off white”. I tried to dye it with amethyst deceiver although I sort of knew it wouldn’t work.

purpledeceiver

They look so pretty on the forest floor, but unfortunately, you’re best off just leaving them there. The purple color is indeed deceitful. It vanishes when you store the mushrooms for a couple of days, it even vanishes if it rains on them while they are still growing. This last fact tells you to give up right away. Predictably, even a large amount of mushrooms give no color on yarn, but I guess sometimes the true experimentalist has to verify the obvious.

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