With more great rain comes a bloom of magical mushroom pageantry across the forest floor. In one walk around a local public trail, I captured these images of the wonderful mycological action on the ground. Hypholoma fasciculare springs up along a rotting log in yellow and orange splendor. Note the browner fungal groupings further back and left on the mossy debris- same mushroom, but older. Many verities of mushroom go through dramatic change during their fruiting period- remember, these mushrooms are only part of the whole living mycology- the year round action happens in the mycelium network buried beneath the forest duff. The fruiting body we see may go through several transformations as it blooms, releases spored, and decrescendos back into the detritus decomposing all around.
Some mushrooms are very tiny, and often overlooked while wandering the woods. Species like Mycena adscendens can be found on decaying wood, like this Douglas fir cone. The world of mycena is colorful and miniature, often these mushrooms are brightly colored and translucent. Note the viscous surface of the cap. This mycena verity also sports unique gills that are spread fart apart with exaggerated ribbing. I’m sure there’s a much more scientific way to describe this characteristic:
The gills are free from attachment or narrowly attached to the stem. They are up to 0.5 mm broad, distantly-spaced , and sometimes adhering to each other to form a slight collar around the stem. (original text)
The hunt for mushrooms can lead us to many nature mysteries, and it’s a lot of fun to follow out the adventure with a few good field guides once your back home. So often, we discover many new things while outside, only to forget the new friends we met once we’re back inside our warm habitat boxes of comfort, thus loosing out on the continued learning journey. While trying to identify many of these featured fungal friends, I was on the world wide web using basic descriptive words like “small white mushroom” in an image search, which helped me to quickly find something much like what I took pictures of outside. Still, I am always taking an educated guess here- knowing that mushroom identification is a very difficult process, and often impassible to fully key out without extensive knowledge and a microscope. Still, it’s helpful and fulfilling to at least try to learn my neighborhood mushrooms.
When I saw these brightly colored “bubs” I knew I was enjoying the company of an amanita species, but could not remember which one- it was too orange to be a regular “fly agarica”, which is the classic red and white mushroom often pictured in fungal artwork. Amanita muscaria var. guessowii is a verity of Amanita muscaria, and controversial in the scientific community because of the hair splitting variation argument, which you can read more of in the link. Mushroom identification is a challenging science, like I said, and it’s still constantly changing, with better DNA research, chemical composition studies, and the continued discovery of never before seen species in the wild. This taxonomy is certainly being rewritten daily, which makes learning the different species even more distressing. Don’t spend too much time getting lost in the name- get to know the greater families first. Picking out an amanita in the crowd is easy enough once you become familiar with its character, in much the same way you’ll learn to know a shelf fungus when you see one. Oh look, a shelf/bracket/conk fungus!
These are a classic fungal friend in most forests- hanging out on the sides of decaying logs and standing snags. The conks are often overlooked, as they are not fresh eating mushrooms, or easy to pull off their woody hosts, but they are wonderful medicinal species to respect. I’m saddened when I see beautiful Fomitopsis pinicola torn off the logs and dropped on the ground- that does kill the mushroom, and it took a long time to grow and form on the log before its life was cut short by ignorant human destruction. Please leave the mushrooms where they thrive on the stand and enjoy them time and time again when you walk by. The brackets are there to stay through the first years of a tree’s decomposition. They are paving the way for other softer species to pick up the task, once the harder resins of the wood are broken down. This example is in co-habitation with other fungal neighbors, a trait mushrooms often share- community.
The picture above shows a team effort in decomposition on an active forest floor. This particular area was protected by a stand of salmon berries (some pictured spiky stalks on right of frame). This overhead protection keeps human traffic from compressing the substrate, allowing a good fluffy soil for mycelium highways to run. There are at least two kinds of fungal feedings happening here- two species are on rotting logs (sulfur tuft and deer mushroom), and two are coming out of the leaf and needle litter in the soil (russula and bolete). Sometimes, its hard to fully identify what a mushroom is truly fruiting off of- forest floor is full of woody debris mixed into the soil, so some species may appear to be growing out of soil, when they are really fruiting from a twig or scrap of bark buried under other things.
Developing an eye for substrates mushrooms colonize can help you find the species you’re looking for. It takes time in the woods looking around, and slowing down to actually see. Our walk took us about 4 miles in three hours- and we were on established trails most of the time. Often, mushrooming takes you off trail and into wild woods, scrambling over hills and under fallen trees, into wetland marshes and over rocky scree. Today’s walk was one most able bodied people of all ages could take- mushrooms thrive in the back yard as well as the back country. Where you find one mushroom, you’ll find many more- they love to congregate.
When you find different species on the same substrate, it does not mean the fungal neighbors are eating the same thing. In a sense they are, all eating this bitter cherry above, but one might be eating bark, one heart wood, and the other, a chemical only found in stone fruit wood. The cherry had some unique species, and the tree its self was a loner in that part of the forest. That made for some specialty wood eaters, and they were nearby in the soil waiting to help. Some might have been present in the tree when it was still standing, and only fruited out after the fall. The reasons for mycological inoculation varies, and many species are still under observation, thousands more lay unstudied or undiscovered. Clavariaceae coral fungi, and Corticiales crust fungi are two families which aren’t on most beginner lists, and even Trametes would confuse, though if I said “turkey tail”, more heads might nod in recognition of that family. I looked at that cherry log and knew I had a turkey tail relative in the bracket, a jelly or coral fungus with the little orange spikes, and though I did not know “crust”, I had seen the variety before on other rotting fruit woods.
So many mushrooms on our walk- remember, this was about 3 hours in a 4 mile trail system. These are also only some pictures- I actually started holding back, as I knew this blog could turn into a small novel of mushroom overload. If you live in Western Washington, and want a great guide to help to find your way through our endless species- TRY THIS. It’s an amazing key for our bio-region compiled by Puget Sound Mycological Society. I’ve been using it to help key out families and find basic groupings. But hey, even if keying out all the mushrooms in the forest isn’t your thing, it’s still a great source if you get curious, and just taking a moment to notice fungal friends in the woods is a great part of any good naturalist journey. For those looking to expand into culinary mushroom foraging, the food rewards can be amazing, if you take the time to learn.
These queen boletes were spotted in an earlier picture- did you see the bulbous chocolate cap? Try bottom left of the group pic. See it? Well, I didn’t- at first, and it took my partner to point out the larger flush of these highly desirable edible mushrooms. What a delightful reward, but it was unexpected, and not a requirement for us to get some good fungal learning in Western Washington.