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Nature Notes - Number 28 September 14, 2021
Introduction: Each season brings new things to see in nature. Sometimes this can be as close as a scout’s front yard. This is good time of year to see a lot of…
Our current topic: Mushrooms
RULE # 1 – Don’t eat any mushroom found in the wild.
Mushrooms are a fungus that arises from mycelium – a white, often stringy, underground fungus. Many mushrooms are short-lived above ground, sometimes only a day or two, but the underground mycelium can live for many years and produce mushrooms over and over. Since they do not contain chlorophyll, they cannot produce their own food, so they obtain food from nearby living plants or decaying wood. They do not have flowers, but reproduce by spores that are released in several different ways. Mushrooms can be found during a wet spring, during the summer, and after rains during the fall. There are thousands of species of mushrooms, and identification can be tricky, but they can usually be sorted into several identifiable groups, such as:
- Gilled mushrooms. The most prominent group has thin plates or gills on the underside of the cap.
- Tube mushrooms have a spongy underside (instead of gills) perforated with tiny pores. They are often associated with trees or logs.
- The bracket mushrooms are hard, often shelf-like on a stump or tree, and can be quite large.
- The Teeth mushrooms have hanging “teeth” on the underside resembling stalactites.
- Puffballs are often spheres containing powdery spore “dust”.
- Other types include jelly fungi (that looks like, well, jelly), flask fungi (inconspicuous, but often injurious to trees) and the cup fungi (with a concave top).
Color can also be important in identifying a particular mushroom; however there can be a wide variation of hues in a species. Stains and blotches can also help.
Location is often a clue. Some mushrooms prefer shady areas while others grow in the sunshine (these are often paler in color). Some prefer mixed woods, while others only grow under conifer trees (sometimes only a certain species), and yet others will pop up in grassy areas.
Have you ever noticed the tendency of some mushrooms to grow in a circle? The reason for this goes back to their connection to the roots of an old tree that stood in the center of that circle. The tree may be gone, but the fungus that was among the roots is still there in a circular pattern. Look for in an open area, such as a yard, where a tree might have stood several years ago.
Keep an eye out for these, often overlooked, but very interesting and sometimes very colorful, miracles of nature.
Don’t let scouts get confused between mushrooms and other fungi on logs or stumps, or lichen. Lichen is a unique plant that is part fungus, but it grows flat in scaly patches on rocks, trees, stumps and other areas. It usually has some green color to it, but not always. It can be gray, brown, or even reddish. We’ll talk about lichen in a future NATURE NOTE.
First of all, remember: RULE # 2 – Don’t eat any mushroom found in the wild.
Rather than handling or collecting mushrooms, use a camera to collect pictures and see if you can group them into the groups above. Make sure you photograph the underneath as well. There are field guides available on mushroom identification that will help, such as the National Audubon Society Field Guide Series, or The Peterson Field Guides.