Forest Mushrooms

Fungal friends are thriving across the landscape at EEC Forest Stewardship. Mushrooms can be found at any time of year here in Western Washington. Western Hemlocks are in evident decline due to extended heat and drought in our once temperate rainforest hillsides. Dead branches, standing snags, and fallen trunks host endless habitat for wildlife and mycological feasts. Bracket fungi, conks- like this Formes fomentarius parasitize stressed trees. It huddles with a Trametes hirsuta? I’m not always sure of specific characteristics, but the orange one is Trametes as much as the grey hoof is Formes. This is mushrooming 101, EEC at the fall equinox, 2022. Our mycological spring is awakening, though these two wood eaters are operating year-round and fruit at any time, many species need cool, damp conditions to bloom out of the forest floor and into our foraging larder. Look to the hills in October after the rains start and you’re sure to see some real mushroom beauty on display. It’s not all culinary, but you’ll be wowed by shape, texture, and color as seasonal wonders of the mushroom spring abound.

Red belted conchs like these, pictured above on a failed western hemlock trunk, are common in the woods throughout all seasons. They feast on dead wood and break down hard wood fibers, hence they themselves are very hard and woody. When they die and begin decomposing, their structure rots like wood, becoming porous and brittle. These beautiful fungi also produce important condensation, which looks like sweat. Fungal exudates conduct minerals and chemicals out of the decomposing wood. Western medicine is studying these liquids for health innovations, such as the treatment of diabetes. Mushrooms hold a lot of medicinal potential within, but the same chemical structures that heal, can, in the wrong amounts, harm. There are also a few deadly toxic species of mushrooms, and countless others that will at the very least, give you terrible digestive upset. This is why mushrooms are best observed, but left to the work they are doing in situ.

Mycology is colonial, communal, social- mycelia is plural in nature. Recognizing the deep interconnected activity of mushrooms in the environment is a model of helpful hints in earth care. Decomposition takes time, and mushrooms are cleaning up forests like other scavengers of the living world. There are fungi which actively harm living trees, and here’s a great webinar on western Washington’s current verities and what role they play. Because of commercial timber mono-cropping, natural cycles of climax and decay over thousands of years is reduced too 40-60 year old continual harvests of young trees. The immune system of the forest is kept working at triage level, weakening the ecology, the complex life systems of nature. Natural protections fade, leaving the young trees vulnerable to disease, and helpless to defend against it. We may have scientific short term solutions, such as more cloning of the trees, but forests, if left to grow and evolve through generations of people, reserve a history of resiliency to protect against infection. Forest products come from logs, the majority of living biomass in a woodland. The majority of the physical biomass, logs, are taken away from the land, and GMO Douglas fir are mass planted for another crop of board feet.

Mushroom personality is often overlooked, and the importance of mycilia networks within the soil of forests are paramount, yet never studied to determine the state of most commercial timber industry stands. Mycological activity within all forests can tell us so much, about nutrient density in the soil and wood, how strong trees’ immune systems are, and what weaknesses they may succumb to. As mentioned above, infected trees are telling more about a larger forest’s health, and in places with continual impact, certain mushrooms cannot survive. In places missing mushrooms, there is less efficient biological breakdown of carbon, less water in the soil, and far less diversity of microbiology in the soil. When soil is less productive, what grows in it will decline, and our pacific northwest temperate rain forests are vanishing. The tree farms are not living forests, they are commercial stands of mono culture. Still, you’ll find mushrooms there.

The language of fungi is still seeking a Rosetta stone for translation, but interest in the properties of fungal chemistry are peaking scientific interest, and as our understanding of mycological complexity grows, we are learning that the mushrooms have much to teach. Our own neurology is plugged into mushrooms, and physiologists are looking into the use of “magic mushrooms” to help heal PTSD, Depression, Eating Disorders, and more. All our medicines come from nature, so it is up to us, as global tenders in deep relation with our world, to see how connected all living things are in sustaining life. Our shortsighted “stewardship” has led to ecological collapse through increasing degradation of natural habitat renamed natural resources, to be extracted for objects. From solar panels to smart phones, our consumption culture will be it’s own downfall. Fungi will be right there with us, though once the forests are gone, we’ll meet them more often in the form of molds.

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