by Beth Sullivan
As we wind down summer and gardens are going to fruit and seeds, it is also the season of the Mushroom. Fungi fans are overjoyed with recent rains and humidity which are the perfect conditions for the explosion of mushrooms we are seeing now.
As most people know, there are mushrooms that are considered edible and very desirable delicacies. There are also a huge number that are inedible and many that are actually deadly. Mushroom hunting for food is to be undertaken only by the knowledgeable. The rest of us can hunt with our cameras.
Look around your yard; there are numerous small capped mushrooms that pop up after a rain. In the darker, damper woods, they are present on the forest floor and on dead wood stumps throughout the late summer and early fall.
|A Kid's favorite- Puffball mushroom|
|A prized beauty, the Chicken of the Woods.|
|Members of the Amanita family are all deadly.|
A kingdom to itself
Fungi are in a Kingdom of their own. They are not plants at all, and surely they are not animals, but you would be surprised at some of their characteristics. They do not have true roots, or a vascular system, or flowers and seeds. They contain no chlorophyll so are unable to make their own food utilizing nutrients and sunlight. Have you noticed there are no real GREEN mushrooms? They rely on obtaining their nutrients from the decay process that they are part of on the forest floor, within all the dead plant material that is present there. They absorb their food through this process, rather than eating it or making it. Mushrooms are actually the visible, spore producing bodies of a largely underground network of rhizome threads that comprise a fungus. The spread of the rhizomes extends great distances but only one or two mushrooms may emerge. In other cases, many will pop up in the same area.
Some are very specific, dependent for their survival on certain species of living trees, dead trees, or in soil with very narrow ranges of pH (soil acidity). But here’s a fun fact: the outer tough skin of many mushrooms is made of chitin, which is the same material as the shells of lobsters and crabs. Strange organisms.
Along with a wide variation in color, they also take many forms: the familiar umbrella, ruffles, shelves, “turkey tails” and puffballs. If you have ever come upon a solid white ball on your lawn and think “golf ball”, experiment a little. A firm young puffball will be white all the way through and have a pleasing earthy smell. But wait a few weeks and you will find a puffball that has become browner with age. A touch with your toe or a flick of the finger will make it puff -explode with fine black dust-which is all the spores contained within. All mushrooms reproduce by releasing dusty spores.
|It's easy to see why these are called Turkey Tails.|
|These are very strange and slimy looking.|
|My Giant Hen of the Woods.|
What's in your backyard?
On a recent wander around my yard, I was astounded to find a huge mound of a ruffled looking mushroom. Closer inspection and research confirmed it to be a Hen of the Woods, a very sought after, edible mushroom. I was confident in its identification, so I harvested it, cleaned it, and ended up with over 15 pounds of useable edible mushroom pieces. I discarded at least four pounds of stump, stem and soiled material. This was a HUGE find. The going price for such a mushroom could be up to $30 a pound or more. Instead I shared it, froze it and ate it. Maybe it will resprout in the same area next year.
Please keep your eyes open for some beautiful, colorful and very interesting inhabitants of the forest floor. Avoid having children touch them and instruct on proper caution. But a good idea would be to use your camera or a sketch pad to enjoy them.
Photographs by Beth Sullivan.