The primeaval search for the supporting structure of all life is in the ground and is the largest single organism on earth, making all life possible and from which the origins of all life emerged. Fungus is prevalent in many essential tracks of our lives and even in the care and maintenance of our body. Bacteria thrive everywhere and make all things possible. Without these essential spores there would never have been beings walking around. Clearly our perspective of life is limited by lack of awareness of the specific gifts of this phylum and genus which has branched off from plants. When we stalk the wild edible mushroom we forage for beings that have a life cycle apart from both plants and aninmals.
A Bountiful Harvest
“The rewards of a Mushroom Foray are not always defined by the amount of choice edible mushrooms that are found. The experience of the foray in itself often brings joy and a strong sense of connecting with nature. One of my most memorable forays took place on a cool late summer morning just north of Tucson, Arizona.
At the time I lived in the small town of Summer haven on top of Mount Lemmon. All during the week, I had been collecting chanterelle and Hedgehog mushrooms with my daughters. These mushrooms fruit in early September on Mt.Lemmon and typically mark the end of the mushroom fruiting season here.
On this morning, I was commuting to my office in downtown Tucson on my Motorcycle. Although it was already light out, the sun had not yet climbed above the Rincon Mountains to the east so it was still a peak time for deer activity. Because of the risk of deer, my commute was a bit slower than usual and I constantly scanned the woods alongside of the road. As I was doing so, I noticed an area that looks like a good habitat for ‘shrooms’,
I pull over onto a small dirt patch just off the road and as I lock up my motorcycle, I remove a paper bag from my briefcase. Now to you folks who foray for fruiting fungi, that last sentence makes perfect sense. Just about everyone else will not understand why a briefcase would contain a supply of paper bags.
There is no path here, instead I wander uphill into the forest while absorbing the morning sights and sounds. It is still early enough that the birds are vocalizing their territorial claims. A lone raven passes overhead and shouts at my intrusion. I return its call in brotherhood. I don’t know why I do this, I just do. Okay, maybe its true, mycophiles are just a bit…ummmm, …different. I pass a grove of tiny plants with even smaller pink flowers. I have to kneel down to see them clearly. The tiny plants have beautiful oval leaves with detailed minute veins and the flowers are intricate as well. Cool! I get up and walk slowly, constantly scanning the ground.
The area looks perfect for Boletes. It is a rolling hillside with large flat zones and several small drainage streams that run through it. There are lots of Ponderosa Pines and Douglas Fir trees. I make a mental note to come back here next August to look for Boletes, then continue to look for areas with Aspen trees in the hope of finding a few late chanterelle mushrooms.
After a while I come to the crest of a hill which is covered with huge boulders. I look up and weigh the return-to-effort ratio as I contemplate a scramble to the top. The climb will add about another 20 minutes to this mini-foray, but I do not have any morning appointments, so I decide to make the climb. Carefully choosing a not-too-difficult route I eventually emerge above the tops at the top of the rock wall. A view of east Tucson opens before and the rock face just in front of my shoes drops almost straight down for a hundred feet or more. I am on top of the world.
A light wind blows across my face and with views unbroken in every direction I feel like I have taken flight. I lift my arms as if they are wings and have a remarkable sensation that I am flying with the entire world attached to my feet.
Far, far below, a few hundred thousand people are beginning their day. Not one of them can see me on this boulder, a man flying alone carrying the world. A flash of light over the Rincon Mountains commands my attention. It is the sun and I have carried the earth to meet it. Warm beams of brilliant gold light play across my face and body. This light of life is still invisible to the city dwellers below and it will take another 15 minutes or so for it to make its way into the valley.
I linger for a moment savoring the feelings of flight and of warmth, then slowly hike back to my motorcycle. All the while, I continue to scan the ground for mushrooms. I do not find a single fruiting body..
I arrive back at my motorcycle and return the paper bag to its place in my briefcase. Firing up the bike I pull onto the twisty mountain road to continue my ride down into the city. A smile graces my face with the realization of having gathered a bountiful harvest without finding a thing.”
Playing with Thor
“With most mythology, I often wonder how the concept of the myth was established. But every now and then, life experience reveals such secrets. I was on a mushroom foray in the Rocky Mountains on a late afternoon in early August when mythology collided with reality. I was collecting King Boletes (Boletus edulis) in one of my favorite areas.
In the Rocky Mountain States, you can find this mushroom in any environment with pine trees and sufficient moisture, but my favorite hunting grounds are in mixed pine forests that include Ponderosa Pine, Douglas Fir and Spruce. This is especially true of wooded glades with rolling hills and flat spots and where water run-off is shallow and wide. The best fruiting will in the flat areas under Spruce although it will also fruit on hillsides within a drainage.
When hunting for Boletes, I use the Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) as an indicator species because its bright red color is easy to spot at a distance, and it grows under the identical conditions as the King boletes. On this foray, I had already filled my basket with King Boletes and a few choice Agaricus mushrooms when I noticed that the steep hillside where I had ended my search appeared to flatten out again about 60 ft higher up. It was then that I first heard the distant rumblings of thunder and I paused for a moment to weigh my choices.
Mountain thunderstorms tend to roll in quickly and can be quite violent. I looked at the sky and could see that the clouds were moving in quickly and were dark grey and heavy-looking. Since I had collected a decent amount of mushrooms and my truck was about 1/2 mile away, the smart thing to do would be to return to my truck now before the storm arrived and I placed myself at risk of a lightning strike.
On the other side of the equation was a promising looking unexplored area nearby to a favorite foray zone. Unfortunately, I am known for not making smart decisions, and in this case I decided to trudge up the hill to check out the flat area above. My pace was fast, spurred by the ominous rumbling from the sky.
Upon reaching the flat, I could see it was a great looking environment. I immediately spotted large numbers of Fly Agaricus, which have to be the most commonly depicted mushrooms. What a neat mushroom! In addition to being a great indicator for Boletes, and as its common name suggests, this mushroom makes an excellent poison to rid a household of flies. When I lived in my mountain cabin, I used to make a wet paste of crushed dried Amanita muscaria and milk and place this mix in jar caps on my window ledges. It worked well to eliminate summertime bugs inside the cabin.
With their bright red tops and white spots, there is something very special about the look of these mushrooms and I stopped to examine a couple of particularly beautiful specimens. It is no wonder to me that there is a long record of people who consider this fruiting body to be a ‘Magic Mushroom’. An Amanita in its prime just looks spectacular and I swear, the mushroom has an aura about it. Looking at these mushrooms, I lingered to contemplate its association with man over the ages.
To early Northern Europeans, this was indeed a magic mushroom. Amanita Muscaria is a hallucinogen. It is eliminated from the body through the kidneys and the urine from someone who has ingested the mushroom is equally a hallucinogen. In addition, Northern European Reindeer are extremely attracted to the smell of urine passed after eating the mushroom and ancient ceremonies were developed to carry and pass the ‘power’ of this mushroom from summer forays to winter hunting. I remembered reading in some journal how Shamans shared their urine well into the winter when food was scarce. Then they would pee in a field where the Reindeer were attracted to the smell. Voila, dinner! It’s easy to understand how the myths about this mushroom could…
The simultaneous flash and thunder-clap of lightning jerked me from my day-dreaming of shamanistic rights. That was close! Rain started to fall and I realized that I had lingered too long. Making my way downhill to my truck another bolt of lightning struck very close uphill from me. I quicken my pace….
…and another bolt of lightning struck a tree about 50 ft. in front of me. The tree exploded with bits of bark blowing out in all direction. Yikes! I suddenly had a moment of enlightenment that all my contemplation of tripping Norsemen had somehow brought me to the attention of the Norse God Thor. Thor was doing a little target practice and I was the target!
KA POW! KA POW!
Yikes, Yikes, Yikes! Thor’s aim is good! This is much too close! I am now running full speed for my truck spilling mushrooms as I run. With great relief I see my truck ahead and I am soon safely inside of it.
I sit in my truck and listen to the storm pass overhead and then onward down the valley. The glass in the truck fogs from my heavy breathing. Looking at my basket, I see that I have lost almost half of my mushrooms. I chuckle to myself thinking that perhaps Thor is a ‘shroomer’ and the ‘offerings’ strewn from my basket while running allowed me to escape with my skin.
To this day, whenever I am playing outdoors or foray in the mountains, I keep a nervous ear for the sound of distant rumbling. This was neither the first, nor last close lightning strike that I have experienced. While the logical aspects of my brain understands that a storm is incapable of emotion and devoid of mythological guidance, a more primal thought emerges with every distant rumble. Having narrowly escaped from Thor on more than one occasion, I’m convinced the dude is looking for a re-match.”
The Nose Knows
Simple Identification of Agaricus Mushrooms
“It has been many years now that I have been scanning the ground for edible mushrooms, and it has come to the point that it is no longer a conscious effort. It does not matter that I might be engaged in a business meeting inspecting a property, or perhaps on a sporting motorcycle ride; I see mushrooms everywhere. I have to admit that I am very visually oriented and rely upon my eyes for the majority of information that I gather. But over time, I have also learned that the sense of smell and other senses are also important in mushroom identification. In this article I will discuss how I use my sense of smell as an important “tool” in the identification of edible Agaricus mushrooms.
I am a big fan of edible Agaricus mushrooms, I really enjoy their ‘meaty’ flavor. It is an easy mushroom to identify to Genus, but it can be very daunting to identify to species. Since there are a number of toxic Agaricus mushroom species, and because I tend to be VERY cautious about eating any mushroom that I cannot identify without question, for many years I avoided collecting Agaricus mushrooms for my dinner plate. It was a member of the Colorado Mycological Society, Ellen Jacobson, who introduced me to a remarkably simple tool to identify edible Agaricus mushrooms. Even then, it took me a couple of years to learn to trust that tool. But I am at the point that when it comes to separating an edible Agaricus from a toxic Agaricus, I use my nose.
Everybody learns things in a personal manner and often that trait is linked to one of the senses. For me, my sense of sight is dominant to my learning. I learn best by seeing something. Because of that, it was initially difficult for me to ‘switch gears’ and classify Agaricus mushrooms by smell.
First, it is vitally important that you learn to identify an Agaricus mushroom to Genus, and for that I use my vision. This is in harmony with the most basic identification concept of mycology which separates genus by differentiating macroscopic fruiting body characteristics. In this case, I use my eyes to verify that the mushroom:
$ Is of generally large stature
$ Has dense gills that are not attached to the stem and are colored pinkish to light tan when young and change color in age to a deep chocolate-brown
$ Has membrane covering the gills when young that forms a ring on the stem after the mushrooms gets larger
$ there is NOT a vulva sac at the base of the stem
Once I establish that a given fruiting body is an Agaricus mushroom in prime age and condition, I then turn over identification to my nose. Since I collect Agaricus mushrooms for my dinner plate, my goal here is to identify an edible Agaricus from a toxic Agaricus, and not to identify the mushroom to species.
At this point, I must express some warnings. It is always best to be able to identify a mushroom to Genus and Species if you are going to eat it. Using smell to separate an edible Agaricus from a toxic Agaricus may not work for some people, the ability to identify smells varies considerably between individuals. In addition, I spend a couple of years verifying that my sense of smell was accurate by testing my sense of smell on known edible and toxic Agaricus mushrooms at mycological meetings and mushroom fairs.
Once I have established by visual cues that I have found an Agaricus mushroom in good condition, I then use my nose to determine if I am going to eat it or discard it. In the scent part of the identification process, I separate Agaricus mushrooms into three smell groups: (A) Almond smell; and (B) Mushroom smell; and (C) Phenol, or chemical smell. Any hint of an Almond smell in an Agaricus mushroom is an automatic ‘keeper’ for eating. For me, all Agaricus mushrooms that have an almond smell are prime for eating. Those that smell ‘mushroomy’ are also ‘safe’ to eat and some (such as A. bitorquis) are prime edibles. I discard all Agaricus mushrooms that have any trace of a Phenol, or chemical smell, and as a back-up, I also discard all Agaricus mushrooms that quickly turn bright yellow at the very base of the stem when they are cut open.
This system of using both vision and smell in the “identification” of Agaricus mushrooms has proven to be very reliable for me. To date, and over many years, I have never experienced any stomach distress from mistakenly eating a toxic Agaricus mushroom.
One of the joys of mushroom identification is that all of your senses can (and should) be used as part of the identification process. It is fascinating to me that with a little bit of training, a difficult to identify genus of mushrooms, such as Agaricus, can easily be separated into edible and non-edible species by the use of smell. Many other mushrooms also have specific smells that can aid in identification. Whether you are new to mycology or a seasoned ‘shroomer’, the nose can become is a valuable tool in navigating the complex task of mushroom identification.”