"Fungi are the original angels. Angel in its oldest root of the word: messenger from the Hebrew mal'akh and Old English aerendgast. Root messengers. Weavers. Communicators. They sew soil to plants, trees to trees. They hold ecosystems together like conversations, making sure each questioning chemical threads into its vegetal receptor. Like angels are said to courier messages from a higher realm, fungi connect us into messages from an even older pre-human paradise: the mythic underworld." - Sophie Strand
Rain, and then the cool pursed lips of the wind draw them out of the ground - red and yellow skulls pummeling upward through leaves, through grasses, through sand; astonishing in their suddenness, their quietude, their wetness, they appear on fall mornings, some balancing in the earth on one hoof packed with poison, others billowing chunkily, and delicious - those who know walk out to gather, choosing the benign from flocks of glitterers, sorcerers, russulas, panther caps, shark-white death angels in their town veils looking innocent as sugar but full of paralysis: to eat is to stagger down fast as mushrooms themselves when they are done being perfect and overnight slide back under the shining fields of rain. - Mary Oliver
Mushrooms sure are magical aren't they? A walk in the woods becomes a fantastic adventure when I'm following the sightings of mushrooms. I lose track of time, and if I'm lucky I might even lose track of where I am altogether. Mushrooms do that - they put a spell on you, transport you to other realms and ways of knowing if you open yourself up to it. I think it's the spores, aka. fairy dust. But first, you must find yourself at the edge of the forest, and then be willing to go.
Following the scent trails of mushrooms is really about following your intuition... you go where you feel guided, following those inner promptings that cannot be rationalized. When wandering through the pathless woods, you lean on something much more ancient and animal within you - your instinct. It's only a matter of time and patience that you'll find yourself face-to-face with the most beautiful white oysters pouring forth from a decomposing tree, or you'll notice a scattering of small red Cinnabar Chanterelle's peaking out from the mossy forest floor, you might even hit gold when you make a turn and walk into a clump of my favorite, Chicken of the Woods.
Mushrooms do a good job of luring me off my well-worn paths and habitual ways of being by leading me straight into the heart of the forest where I come into contact with the pulsing presence of the wild within and around me. A day foraging for mushrooms is always a day that feels like I've stepped out of linear time and entered into mythic time, where I remember who I am as just one part, one strand, within an intricate tapestry of life weaving itself awake. Mushrooms in all of their glorious shapes, sizes, colors and personalities are awe-inspiring, the way they seem to pop up out of nowhere, like little fairies making themselves known as if asking to be following into the darkness, into the depths. as to be followed.
For our love of all things mushrooms, here we provide you with Part 1 of our basic Mushroom Identification Guide to get you started on your adventures in the woods. Below we share a little bit about mushrooms, their anatomy, some common types of mushrooms, as well as some tips when collecting. If you are new to mushroom foraging, we advise you not to ingest anything without the presence of a mycologist who can confirm your identification. Mushrooms can be lethal if you mis-identify, and many edible mushrooms have poisonous look alikes, so please be careful and take care as a beginner on this path.
What ARE Mushrooms?
Mushrooms the reproductive organs (also known as fruit bodies or flowers) produced by fungi that spend most of their lives below ground in the form of microscopic filaments called hyphae. These tiny threads do not reproduce through sexual reproduction, seed, or photosynthesis, but rather through spores. When the spores of a mushroom are released, they can travel a considerable distance before they land. Upon landing, this single cell (spore) sends out 'hyphae' or fibers that as a collective we refer to as 'mycelium.' Mycelium's job is to help gather food and materialize the fungus. According to Nicholas P Money, "Mycelia spread out in three dimensions within soil and leaf litter, absorbing water and feeding on roots, wood, and the bodies of dead insects and other animals."
Mushrooms belong to a fungi group of decomposers. Some of their immediate relatives include snails, earthworms, bacteria, and beetles. Essentially their ecological role is to break down dead plant and animal matter into more soluble forms of simple sugars, nitrates, and phosphates that are used by other decomposers or for food by plants.
These flowers require a specific detailed attention and interest in the hidden, unseen areas that may not be obvious. Mushroom defining features are in the cap’s shape, the fertile surface underneath the cap, the pores or teeth, and the stalk. These are areas we'll want to explore and so that when we come upon a mushroom in the wild we can better determine who we are meeting.
Fertile surface: gills, pores, or teeth
Stalk: with a ring and rhizomorphs
Cap or the Support Structure
The fertile surface of a mushroom is usually supported by a superstructure: a cap and stalk, bracket, cup, gelatinous glob, or branched clump of tissue. The shape, size, color, surface features and flesh characteristics of these fruit bodies are diverse.
The cap shapes can be bell-shaped, conical, convex, cylindrical, flat, depressed, or funnel shaped.
Caps also might feature specific characteristics like a central bump, known as an umbo or central umbilicate dimple. The edge of a cap may be tucked under or inrolled, scalloped, or decorated with hairs, veil fragments, or spoke-like ridal lines, known as striations.
The color of mushrooms are never exactly the same, even between the same species of mushroom. Mushroom colors invite new descriptive qualities that aren’t always recognized as colors, like pinkish-cinnamon, sunburn, or rusty brown.
Gills are an important detail in knowing what fruitbody you may have discovered. Gills are thin sheets of tissue suspended in a spokelike arrangement from the underside of many capped mushrooms.
They can be crowded, widely spaced, forked or have short gills unconnected to longer gills. They can be crinkled, crisped, sawtoothed, serrated, fringed, or ornamented with tiny bumps of droplets. The edges might be a different color than the faces; these are known as marginate gills. Small folds, “crossveins”, sometimes run across the underside of the cap, connecting adjacent gills.
The gills can vary in the way that they are attached to the stalk, which can also guide you to a more clear identification. For example, attached, notched, decurrent, strongly decurrent, and free.
Some mushrooms are tricksters. They look like they might have true gills, but they have ridges (false gills). For example, the Cinnabar Chanterelle.
Some mushrooms have gills that weep a milky liquid, known as latex like the Indigo Milky.