Monday, October 4, 2021

Finding Fall Fungi

 by Beth Sullivan

Glistening purple gems

As we wind down summer and gardens are going to fruit and seeds, it is also the season of the Mushroom!  I can never get through this season without renewing my sense of wonder at the variety and resiliency of these organisms. Fungi fans are seeing the amazing results of all the rains we have had through the summer and early fall. These 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 even, 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.

Like fairy umbrellas
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.

They are called turkey tails for 
a good reason!
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 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 and the color and patterns of those spores, when collected and inspected, are essential identification traits.

Have a child draw 
them in a sketch
book - by Emerson
These first weeks of October are perfect for hiking, and perfect for mushroom hunting.  The Great Avalonia Trail Trek will be happening soon. Saturday Oct 16 through Sunday Oct 24. Please see the web pages and consider supporting our team Stonington Stewards, or any other team.  During the week I know I will be wandering the trails, doing routine stewardship, but also logging in miles for the Trek.  I will also be searching out more unique mushrooms to photograph.

Please keep your eyes open for some beautiful, colorful and very interesting inhabitants of the forest floor.  Avoid having children touch them and instruct them about proper caution. A good idea would be to use your camera or a sketch pad to enjoy them!  Have the kids draw them too.

Witch's Butter

Amanitas have bumps on their top
and are deadly.

What happens when a mushroom gets old?
It gets moldy!

Puffball-in-Aspic Yuck Jelly!