This mushroom story still makes me smile even years later. While at
in an apartment downhill from campus. Each day on our walk home we passed a fraternity that I barely noticed. My roommate Cathy, however, spotted shaggy mane mushrooms on the broad lawn and during the fall she picked a crop daily, turning them into mushroom delicacies in our kitchen. One afternoon a fraternity brother sauntered out while she was harvesting and asked a simple question. With a sweep of his hand across the lawn he queried, “Are all these mushrooms edible?” Cathy replied slowly, “Some of them are,” thus securing our mushroom supply for the remainder of our stay in
fungi that grow in a variety of shapes including round, club-shaped or bracket-like to those resembling coral or even tiny cups containing what looks like eggs. These are all the fruitbodies of fungi, literally the tip of the iceberg. Beneath is a labyrinth of threads or hyphae which absorbs nutrients. It can extend for miles! If you turn over a rotting log, you will get a glimpse of
this expanding network in action. With the correct moisture and environment, hyphae generate into the familiar mushroom fruitbodies whose function it is to form spores that disperse on the wind. Spores germinate into new hyphae and renew
the cycle. Let’s take a closer look at three mushrooms you are likely to encounter. See if you can recognize them from the descriptions.On many walks in the woods, I am intrigued by the brilliant yellow to orange color of a classic-looking cap and stem mushroom. Its cap flattens as it ages and is covered with light-colored flakes. A large ring, which originally covered
the gills, now encircles the stem below the cap. Immediately I am reminded of the stories of toadstools – a term sometimes referring to poisonous mushrooms. Any guesses? If Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric) jumps to your mind, you are right and yes, it is fine-looking but deadly for humans to eat. On a morning after wet summer or autumn weather, these mushrooms seem to have inflated into giant white balls on a lawn. If they are still young, the inside whensliced is white and solid. When you come back a few days later, the outside is deteriorating and the inside is yellowing as the spores mature. A smaller relative, the
size of a golf ball, has a pore in the top from which thespores emerge like smoke when disturbedDid you solve the mystery? These arepuffballs – round mushrooms with no stems– the Giant Puffball (Calvatia gigantea) and the Tumbling Puffball (Bovista plumbea). Exploring by an abandoned beaver pond, you see that remnants of chewed stumps are now festooned with layers of small fan-shaped bracket fungi that havesemi-circular patterns of light and dark brown. Do they remind you of part of a
turkey’s anatomy? Yes, these are turkey-tail polypores (Trametes versicolor)!
feet. Some mushrooms form associations
with trees which are beneficial to both.
Called mycorrhizal relationships, the fungus
assists the tree in getting water and nutrients
and in turn receives sugars from the tree.
Other mushrooms break down organic
material like fallen trees, thus recycling
nutrients for other living things. Still
others can be parasitic. All are part of the
fascinating diversity and complexity of
mushroom lives. So, remember to stop and
smell the roses but also stoop to sniff the
mushrooms growing underneath!