Drought Mushrooms

Forest Floor with Bountiful Boletes

The Boletus family is a great group to know here in Western Washington. They are prolific throughout all seasons and some are easy to identify and harvest- though I will not teach that here- face to face mushroom learning in the field is always best. Please contact me, escocrain@gmail.com, for opportunities to join adventures in mushroom I.D. time. The fall is always bets, but this summer, during incredible drought, we took time to wander up into higher elevations (above 4,000 ft.) to find some fungal friends. These pictures of Boletes are hard to identify, but I thoughts they were bitter boletes of some kind, and left them. There were a number of slime molds out- not unexpected for this time of year with the heat. But even some oyster like verities were peeking out loners from under the duff. With such little water available, these great mushrooms were still finding the moisture where they could, and making the best of it.

The Central Cascades are full of moisture, even when the clouds refuse to burst. Mysts cloak these towering crags with all the humidity a mushroom needs to flourish, though when it does start raining again later this fall, The Mushroom Spring will arrive. These pictures are of solitary, or small groups of late summer stragglers in the fungal kingdom. By October, the mountains will be awash in bloom with all kinds of fungal families- including many that people love to eat. Right now in August, it’s best to document species, but let them be. The slime molds, like Dog Vomit, are bright and colorful, but send a message of disgust in more ways than one. Note that breathing in the spores has been known to trigger asthma in some people. Yet it’s one of the most brightly colored creatures biding its slime on the trail during our ascent.

An often underappreciated year round species of fungus among us is Red Belted Conk. This Polypore thrives on dead wood, and can be found bracketed along decaying trunks and downed logs. On a warm August day, you can see drips of clear liquid forming on white flesh of these awesome mushrooms. This is called Fungal Guttation, and it’s an amazing source of water for many insects and small mammals. A person could lick the moisture too- though it won’t give you much re-hydration- better to leave it for other forest friends. Our hike took us through a well established forest- one might even call it older growth, as at the elevation we were ascending to, size is stunted. We still saw a lot of large, majestic giants towering in a canopy cathedral above. There were still signs of logging, but many mature trees stood tall.

Glacier Peak in the far off distance

By the time we reached our highest point on the trail, glaciers were in view, and the snow melt from last winter was still blanketing sheltered shady spots around us. This slow melt was also hydrating the surrounding flora and fauna, keeping the landscape lush and alive. We camped at an established site along a picturesque ridge and kept an eye out for more mushrooms in the woods. Surprisingly, there were none around a nearby body of water or along the snow melt. Still, morning mists lingered the next day before another scorcher enveloped us on our decent. We found a few more boletes popping out of the dry duff and wondered at the awkward angles the caps protruded from the needles. Again, it’s late summer, and the general atmosphere is not conducive to great mushroom production.

Mushrooms can tell us a lot about climate conditions and ecological health in the environment. Though most fungi prefer damp, cool conditions, many will throw caution to the wind in a chance to repopulate through spore spreading in any wet window. Because The Cascades captures so much moisture off The Pacific Ocean, even summer drought season can produce enough humidity to cultivate the right climate for all kinds of amazing mushrooms. Take a moment to look around, even in dry places, especially at elevation. If you find fungus, document the species as best you can and note the landscape and any recent precipitation. As our world continues to dry out and heat up, we’ll see the mushrooms adapting rapidly, which is why its such a successful kingdom in the natural world.

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