Mighty fun having fungi now on ‘my radar’

Foraging and edible mushroom groups on social media are cropping up more frequently than the mushrooms themselves this fall, and that’s saying something because this has been a rainy and fabulous fungi fall.

This is my first year interested in the spore-t (yes, that is a mushroom pun), and it’s fast becoming a feather in my cap (yup, again, pun intended, it’s a sickness and there is no cure). My goal for the year was to try one edible species, but only if I was 99.9 per cent sure of the mushroom.

Armed with two fungi field guides for the province (one which focuses on edible varieties) and spurred on by two new social media groups that I joined for the North, I ventured out to see what the forest would offer. In addition to having the goal of taking photos, I also tried out “Seek,” a nature identification app that has some backing from National Geographic.

I was looking for fungi on the ground, and on the side of trees, logs or stumps. They can be almost any size and colour. To identify mushrooms, you need to note where they are growing, as some only grow on certain species of tree or environment. Also, you should examine (or in my case, photograph) the cap, the underside (the gills), the stem, and base while in the field, to support an identification later.

My first sighting was an adorable miniature crop of what looked like young honey mushrooms on a root in the middle of the path. Then I came across possible oyster mushrooms, stacked like delicate white shelves on the side of a rotten stump. I almost picked up a scarlet waxcap, because I thought it was a piece of red plastic litter on the ground. The day’s strangest find looked like a stomach perched on a Corinthian column (white elfin saddles).

It was hit and miss with the app, which while was good on many plant identifications, it rarely got the exact name of the mushroom, only the family.

The idea of eating a mushroom from the wild is a bit terrifying. For every edible mushroom there appears to be at least 100 that are toxic (can kill you) or inedible (read tastes terrible – like the Buckley’s mushroom?). I’m surprised how cavalier wannabe foragers can be. Some seem willing to stick anything that is “natural” into their mouths. I think some groupies literally stand in the forest in front of a mushroom after posting a photo, waiting for the group to id it so that they can take it home and eat it.

Of course, never trust the id of any mushroom solely to an app, or from photo identification by a mycophile (mushroom lover’s) group.

Regarding the social media mushroom groups, at first, I too was overexcited, happy to have found fun-guys and gals who also had this interest, and posted a dozen photos to the group. I was hopeful someone would do all the work for me and provide identifications, but I quickly learned how annoying that can be. Now, I always check the app, and both field guides before bugging the group. They also pointed me toward getting spore prints. For example, a brown spore print from an oyster mushroom look-alike indicates a poisonous mushroom.

There is only one mushroom where a simple visual identification was good enough for me; the giant puffball. There are no real lookalikes. In fact, I ate part of one at Thanksgiving, allowing me to achieve my goal of one edible species this year.

Easier than bird watching because the specimens don’t fly away, it was rather thrilling to have identified several species. It truly is amazing and rewarding when we shift our attention and focus in nature. Fungi were not on my radar before, and now, I wonder how I missed all this beauty?

If there are any local mycophiles and foragers who are willing to teach a newbie, drop me a line.

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