This is the time of year for mushrooms of all shapes, colors and sizes. They grow isolated and remote, deep within the shade and gloom as well as in great numbers and in plain sunny sight. Slimy and smelly or brilliantly colored like a flower; camouflaged and almost invisible and both large and minute, mushroom diversity abounds all around the globe.
Some are edible and tasty while others are edible but foul in flavor. Mushrooms can also be deadly poisonous. Even so, they seem to appeal to many and draw people out into the land in search of them year after year. Many mushroom hunters flock to the forests, hills, fields and other environments seeking edible mushrooms to harvest. Some merely seek them out for their photographic qualities. Either way they draw the curious and adventuresome when they pop out of the soil.
If you do hunt them, for whatever reason, you will always be surprised what kinds come up each season and from year to year because they vary greatly. Just because you found some beautiful morels one year in a certain spot does not mean you will find them next year. Many people who love to harvest mushrooms for food swear by their taste, texture and nutritional value. However, mushrooms for the most part contain little in the way of nutrition. They contain between 85 and 95% water, like many above ground vegetables, which means to gain solid amounts of vitamins and minerals you need to consume large and very fresh quantities, both are difficult to do.
While some mushrooms contain protein, the type of protein is indigestible. Mostly what edible mushrooms, and not all of them contain are B vitamins, vitamin A, some D and K as well as iron and copper. Again not all edible mushrooms contain those elements and some that do are very difficult for the digestive system to extract. Mainly mushrooms are sought out and eaten for their flavor and texture rather than their nutritional qualities.
Yes there are many poisonous mushrooms, but they need to be consumed to poison someone. You cannot absorb mushroom toxins through your skin. However, if you get a toxin on your skin and do not wash your hands, you could transfer the toxin to food or drink that you then ingest. So handling mushrooms you do not know should be done with care.
Below are some mushrooms I have located this season, the the last month or so, and photographed just for you. I included a few details about some of them as well.
The Blushers are in the Amanita family, like the Yellow Patches pictured below. These can grow upward of 8 inches tall with a 2-6 inch wide cap. These particular mushrooms have flecks on their caps that can be colored dirty brown to pinkish in hue. In their prime they have a ring near the top section of the stalk, but can loose it as they grow older. They are usually rather tacky to the touch and their spores are white. You can find these growing in the dirt of the forest floor all through eastern North America and out in California. They seem to enjoy pine and oak forests with that heavy acidic soil. If they are cooked really well they are edible but to the novice there are toxic mushrooms that can look similar and can be very dangerous.
These Amanita follow the same rules as the above pictured Blushers. The biggest difference is their color. You can clearly see they display a brilliant yellow and orange paint with off white to yellow flecks on their caps. These are also smaller than Blushers. The caps measure around 1-3 inches wide and the height reaches between 2-4 inches. You can find them growing from June all the way to November in southern regions, but in the north they usually die-off in early October. So far as I know they only grow in eastern North America. These are not recommended for eating.
The Destroying Angle is also in the Amanita family, but just happens to be tied with the most poisonous mushroom in the western hemisphere. Only the Death-Cap equals the toxins found in this beautiful and innocent looking mushroom. It is usually a pure white, angelic looking almost with an amazing graceful air about it. Most of the time is grows solitary, which simply exemplifies its striking looks among the dark browns, greys and blacks of the forest leaf litter. Growing from June until November in the warmer climates and October up here in the north, the Destroying Angel can be found all over North America in forests and grasses, yes even on the edges of your yard. Standing 3-8 inches in height with a flat cap of around 2-5 inches across, this is a medium sized mushroom. Note the skirt ring on its stalk. Like most Amanitas the bulb in the ground has a sheathed cup and sometimes is one of the only clear things to identify it from other mushrooms, mushrooms that are edible like the Agaricus that looks similar. In short, the Destroying Angels cause harsh kidney and liver failure over a few days of agonizing suffering.
This is an interesting looking mushroom. Yes we all know what you are thinking; it looks like a penis, hence the name “phallus”. The first two are members of the Stinkhorn mushrooms, but they do not mimic the typical slimy looks or the foul smell of most Stinkhorns. These are dry and have very little in the way of scent. They do however have the overall shape of the Phallales Order, which is obviously an erect phallus. From June to October and from eastern Canada to the deep south and westward to the edge of the Great Plains this order of mushrooms can be found. They prefer leaf duff, but can be found under evergreen trees and even in grassy parks. There are six main Stinkhorn families and 22 genera of them. Insects are their main pollinators.
The Coral Fungus Family looks much like underwater coral as we observe it growing on dead wood and rotting wood remains in the soil. They are strikingly unique and beautiful in their colors of yellow to white, purple, brown, pink and orange. From mid summer into early autumn the coral fungus can be found within the 6 identified generas. Pictured above is the white-coral. It only stands 1-4 inches tall and has a soft, rather fragile rubber feel to it. As you can see in the photos, this coral grows directly on the ground rather than dead wood. It can be found on both the eastern and western north to south bands of America. It is edible cooked.
The orange earth tongue in the above photo can be found all over the country. The Earth Tongue or Helotiales Order of fungus contain a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The orange earth tongue, which in this case looks more yellow, stands only 3/8 to 1 1/2 inches tall and can be found growing in loose colonies. The one you see above is seemingly on its own, but you can see another starting to come up to the left of it. They can grown in leaf litter as well as on sphagnum moss or wood. In some areas it can look like small yellow or orange blades of grass scattered on the forest floor. The earth tongues are not edible.
There are many Corts and so the Violet Cort above is just one variety. What makes this cort so striking is its coloring. Ranging from deep violet to purple, the violet cort stands upwards of 7 inches tall, but usually around here can be found nearer to 5 inches or less. It has the typical mushroom shape containing stalk and “mushroomed” head. You can really only find these in later summer and early autumn, the months of September and October all across the country. These are edible if cooked.
The Red-Capped-Scaber is part of the Bolete family of mushrooms. This beauty of a specimen in the above photo shows it clearly. Thickly stalked and fully headed, this mushroom stands stout amongst the thick leaf duff of both deciduous and coniferous forests. They can grow between 4-7 inches and have a whitish to light tan stalk coloring with a reddish brown cap. They are dry and rather scaly to the touch. From August to September you can find them in many areas of North America. These are also edible but this mushroom has many others that look very similar.
The armillariella-mellea is also called the Honey Mushroom, but there are many mushrooms with this common name. These are sticky cluster mushrooms colored yellow-brown with paler stalks and prominent skirts rings. They grown on trees mainly but can be found in the soil as well. The cap measures between 1-4 inches and the stalk from 2-6 inches in length. The young ones have rounded caps with speckles and as they age the caps flatten, develop various shade rings of browns and can have small black hairs near the center. Depending upon where in the country you are, they can be found from August all the way through mid winter in more mild climates. Even though they are somewhat edible (though many people develop intestinal looseness from eating them), the Honey Mushroom has many, many poisonous look-alikes and so should be avoided.
There are many puffballs around the country, but the pigskin-poison puffball is actually a “false puffball”. It is thick skinned, dark yellow-brown and around 3/4 of an inch to just over and 1 1/2 inches. At the top there is a small split that opens exposing dark grey to grey purple spore dust. It starts out white, but as the inner white flesh opens the spores color dark quickly. You can find them all over together or in groups from July through November. They are poisonous, just as the name states.
The gen[studded-puffball is a true puffball with a mock stem. Puffballs do not have true stems. From July to October around the country you can find them growing on the ground and in moss. 1-2 1/4 inches round by 1 1/2 to 3 inches tall, this white puffball is covered with small soft spines. They are round to elongated due to their sometimes narrow base. The spines give it is “gem-studded” name. The flesh is white and the spores that show from the opening at the top are also white and turn kind of a green-brown. It is edible.
There are tons of polypore species. The mustard-yellow one pictured is a classic looking one. Hard, flat, wavy, ringed and growing on tress both dead and alive, the polypores are abundant across the country year round. Some are edible and some are not. Some can be incredibly colored and some do dingy you would swear they were dead.
These small mushrooms I do not know a whole lot about. There are seemingly countless species, many of which appear to only sprout up in mid summer through early autumn after rains. They vary greatly in shape and color, dryness or slime coated and smell. I do know they have been associated to fairy stories for a very long time.
The decorated-mop I also do not know a whole lot about. I can identify it, but that it about it. It is a large flopping mass that grows around here in late summer and early autumn. The mop is sticky to the touch and always pale yellow-orange in hue.
Chaga I have written enough about, but wanted to include this photo anyway 🙂
The slime and jelly family I do not know much about beyond they are very small, sticky or slimy, come in amazing colors of yellow, orange, red, blue, purple, black, white, grey and pink. They grow on dank, wet rotten woods mainly and always seem to add a flare of artistic talent to an array of mosses and other fungus’s.
The birch-polypore is smooth like silk to the touch and grows between 1-10 inches on both live and dead birch trees. You can find it all year long anywhere birch trees grow. It has a creamy white-tan coloring and has a small stout stalk, but not always. The fibers of the dry birch polypore make an excellent bed to nurture embers to carry and restart fires from.
Below are other mushrooms I have found this year that I have yet to identify, or can name but know little about. I include them here for variety and beauty.
Next time you take a walk in summer or autumn see how many different mushrooms you can find along the way. Not so much to see if you can find edibles ones, but rather just to get a personal glimpse of the very short lived, often hidden unique beauties of the natural world that escape many peoples eyes. The mushrooms of the world certainly fall into a very interesting and almost mystical placement on the earth. Is it any wonder so many stories have been created combining mushrooms with magic, fairytales and lore?