Monday, December 27, 2010

Mushroom goggles

About this time last year, our friend and neighbor introduced us to the native edible fungi of our very own Southern California mountains. He is an expert, and he foraged prized chanterelle mushrooms from the damp winter woodland - even from the oak-leaf and pine-needle soil of the narrow strip beside our shared driveway.

When I learned that such wonders were right here in my neighborhood, suddenly I began to seek out mushrooms in the woods while taking my daily walk with Jack. It was amazing how - when you start to look for something - you suddenly see it where previously you couldn't detect it at all. When I talked with our neighbor, we laughed and called it "mushroom goggles."

This has happened to me before with an assortment of arcane details. I remember one summer in college when I couldn't help but see the types of hub-caps all the cars had. Or the year my company installed new computerized parking equipment - suddenly I became aware of what system that was employed in each parking lot I used.

So on yesterday's wintery walk in Red Rock Canyon, after the rains of December, I was mindful of the season. I put on my "mushroom goggles." Here's what I found.


These red-capped mushrooms grew amid pine needles and oak leaves. They are a surprisingly attractive red color - specimens in fine shape appear to be rounded red granite stones at first sight. Older ones deepen in color as they rot.

Here's another photo of the same cluster.

The underside of the caps don't have gills, they are sort of spongy looking. They may be Boletus dryophilus - considered edible but not particularly choice.


This one may be the "False Chanterelle" - Hygrophorpsis aurantiaca, or even worse, Omphalotus olivascens, the "Jack o'lantern mushroom." As my neighbor said when I sent him the picture - "Eat and get VERY sick (but not die)" Hmm....

What of these graceful little lampshades, growing on a rotting fallen oak tree?

Or these, another pretty gilled 'shroom with a red velvet lampshade? You never know.

Along the trail, a fallen oak tree hosted multiple species of fungi. These pretty little coral-pink bubbles are the size of pearls.

On the same tree, these fungi grew. They may be Trametes versicolor, which has the delightful common name of "Turkey Tail."

One oak stump grew lots of fungi, including these bright orange mushrooms that were starting to liquify as they rotted. They stained my fingers bright orange where I touched them. Yuk!

Here are some small puffed mushrooms with textured caps. I'm not sure what they are.

I'm a person who likes to identify and classify plants, so I searched through field guides to figure out what these fungi are called. But, unlike with plants, I don't fully understand the physical structures and details of fungi. The one thing that was very clear to me as I checked through field guides, though, is that many mushrooms resemble one another - and some very very deadly poison mushrooms look a lot like delicious edible ones.

Mushrooms don't leave much room for error. So - even though these are beautiful, intriguing, fascinating - I'm not going to harvest them without some expert advice.

But it's interesting to walk through the woods with your "mushroom goggles" on. Or your "bird goggles," or "flower goggles," or goggles that help you see fish in a pond, or crystals of quartz in a stone.

Take some time to focus on a small detail in the world you live in. Tell me what you're seeing.

5 comments:

MAYBELLINE said...

I prefer the variety Alice used.

kcinnova said...

Gorgeous photos! I love the light shining through the "lampshades" and the turkey tails.

I'm afraid the detail I'm seeing today is the dirt on the kitchen floor. *sigh*

Jason, as himself said...

Fascinating. I love mushrooms, and not necessarily the kind Alice used. :)

I have a friend who took my daughter into the woods behind her house and showed her exactly which ones to pick, and then they used them in gourmet cooking. Very fun.

Funny thing about mushrooms...either you love them or you hate them.

cactus petunia said...

Beautiful! I love that to photograph them you have to get down on the ground and are drawn into a life in miniature. It's magic!

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

I really wish I knew how to identify edible mushrooms. Even as a forager, I'm afeared of the fungi.

There are mycology groups that sponsor walks, but I've never had the opportunity to join one.

Lovely post!