Little Brown Mushroom: Pisolithus tinctorius

My dog Marlowe and I take our morning walk along a seasonal creek in my neighborhood. It’s a favorite place for dog walkers, and sadly many of them don’t clean up after their pets. Why bring this up? Keep in mind that the sides of the dirt path are littered with piles of decomposing dog poop, and then you’ll get an idea of how absurd it was when this particular pile of brown, stopped me in my tracks.

 mushroom Pisolithus tinctorius

Yes, I actually touched this with my bare hands. Believe it or not, this is not a questionable mound of excrement – this is a dye mushroom named Pisolithus tinctortius, and it’s one of my favorites.

Some mushrooms will surprise you with vibrant pigment, like red or purple, hiding within its brown or yellow exterior. Pisolithius will not. It makes – brown.

But those mushrooms that potentially produce a vibrant rainbow have a small amount of pigment per mushroom; you need a lot of them to dye enough yarn to crochet into a hat or scarf, for example.

This ugly little Pisolithus packs a lot of pigment within its brown spores; this mushroom can dye a lot of yarn; this guy (and the two others I found the same morning) are about to resupply my yarn basket.

Even though I was positive I had identified this mushroom correctly, there’s a simple test to prove it.

First step: pour hot water into a jar, insert the mushroom, and if the color changes – ta da! The next step is to add a yarn sample to see how the dye will affect wool, cotton, or silk.

Natural dye with mushroom Pisolithus tinctorius
Notice the brown spores (powder) on the top. That’s why it’s a good idea to do this dye outside.

I did not have a yarn sample, but I did have a large glass jar and a quest to capture the moment the pigment seeped out of the mushroom’s spores and into the hot water. I photographed the result.

The water began to change instantly.

Natural dye with mushroom

Notice the brown swirls of dye –

Natural dye with Pisolithus tinctorius

Within five minutes, it looked like this.

Natural dye with wild mushroom Pisolithus tinctorius

I haven’t dyed a new batch of yarn with my new mushrooms yet, and what shade of brown it will be is still a mystery. Until then, here’s a sampling from previous dye baths using  Pisolithus tinctorius.

Yarn naturally dyed with mushroom Pisolithus tinctoriusCrocheted hat, naturally dyed with mushroom Pisolithus tinctorius


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