Mushrooms, the fruit of fungi that lives in soil every continue to fascinate people. Whether it's identifying the mushrooms like the inky cap, that tend to pop up in the yard from time to time, or for picking the cream of the crop wild mushrooms to try out in a new recipe, questions about the types of mushrooms growing wild continue to be popular.
Any mushroom identification guide necessarily starts with a precaution. Many wild mushrooms are toxic and consuming wild mushroom pose potentially severe medical problems. The old adage, when in doubt throw it out, applies to mushroom hunters.
A beginner's guide to mushrooms often starts by dividing most of the common mushrooms into those that have gills under the cap and those that have pores under the cap. Common edible mushrooms such as the king bolete, are listed in the pores category. The following picture presentation provides a quick review of some common gilled mushrooms, along with a group of additional mushrooms.
Cortinarius, the world's largest genus of mushrooms, gets its name from the partial veil that covers the cap of the young fruiting bodies. The presence of lamellulae, or short gills also provides a good field ID clue for Cortinarius species.
Lobster Mushrooms (Hypomyces Lactifluorum) develop when another fungus grows on the Russula or Lactarius mushroom. As it develops, gills of the host mushroom disappear. Their bright orange color insures easy identification in the wild. Normally the top of the mushroom cap protrudes slightly above soil height, covered by leaves or other forest ground cover.
Common throughout many areas of North America, they can often be found on forest edges near paths and roads. In some coastal mountain areas of the Pacific Northwest, literally hundreds can be found growing on the edges of a two mile loop trail.
They are considered a choice edible, although all mycologists recommend caution harvesting them in the wild. It is not always easy to determine the original host species.
Amanita refers to both the mushrooms in the family Amanitaceae as well as the specific mushrooms within the Amanita genus. The over one hundred documented North American species share physical characteristics such as the presence of a veil that covers the mushroom during the maturation process, with veil remnants visible on the fungi's mature caps.
Fly Agaric, the common name for Amanita muscaria, is recognized by the orange spotted top.
Mycena, (Fairy Helmets) rank as some of the most colorful and smallest mushrooms seen growing on forest floors. With over two hundred identified species, identifying any particular species can be difficult. It's best to enjoy them as the small, thin purple, red, yellow, brown and orange mushrooms. The picture might shows mycena strobilinoides, a bright orange species found growing in the forests of the Pacific Northwest.
Oyster mushroom refers to a variety of gilled mushroom species that grow like shelves on trees. Commercial growers around the world love them because they are very easy to grow edibles. Pleurotus-ostreatus, pictured, grow in bunches. Their caps can look either fan shaped, like the caps in the picture, or they can look shell shaped, depending on the angle they are growing vis a vis their tree host.
Pleurotus-ostreatus is one of a handful of mushrooms that eat nematodes, which makes them an excellent natural pest control research subject.
The snow mushroom (Gyromitra montana) receives its name based on its habit of fruiting at higher elevations in the West along the snow melt line.
Research over the past couple of decades has led to some confusion among Gyromitra species, with debate existing as to whether Gyromitra gigas and Gyromitra montana should be considered the same species.
Physically, the mushroom grows very close to the ground, often with only the rounded cap showing. Its low growing feature helps differentiate it from other Gyromitra species that grow on longer, above ground stipes. Gyromitra montana sometimes gets called the false snow morel and brain mushroom.
Gomphus sometimes refers to a separate order of mushrooms (Gomphales), or a group of mushrooms situated in the Phallales order of stinkhorns.
Physically, gomphus slightly resemble chanterelle mushrooms, with their decurrent gills, or gills that extend from under the cap, down the mushroom stipe. The look of the Woolly Chanterelle (Gomphus floccosus) changes slightly with age and locations. The picture shows a young group with a white stem and almost apricot cap.
Most of the edibility talk about gomphus species recommends leaving it alone, as it is known to cause gastrointestinal problems. Some mycologists consider it poisonous.
Caps and stipe come in a variety of red, brown, tan, yellow and purple shades. The picture shows the very purple Cortinarius violaceus.
Coral Mushrooms, a colorful group of mushrooms, fit into a handful of mushroom orders. The picture shows a club coral in the clavaria genus.
Typically Clavariaceae species tend not to be the dominant mushroom family found in any area. However, many of the brighter colored species can be easy to spot as they stand out against their typical green and brown forest background. When the colorful species are not readily visible, try looking around the base of downed trees or stumps. Smaller corals often sprout in the area.
Morel mushrooms (Morchella) ranks at the top of the edible mushroom list. Mushroom hunters know them as spring fruiting fungus, often associated with either recent burn areas or deciduous forests, although they can be found in coniferous forests. Like boletes, morels retain their flavor when dried. Unlike boletes, they are hollow on the inside.
Dried mushrooms are the second best thing to fresh mushrooms. Whether found in fields and forests, or purchased at a local market, most mushrooms have a limited shelf life. Drying them extends the shelf life.
The top picture in the box shows a bolete mushroom cut in half with the pores removed. The flesh is white except for a bruise on the lower part of the stem.The worm holes and decaying flesh of the mushroom in the second picture indicate that the mushroom is well past its prime. A close look at the picture also shows some blue discoloration on the mushroom stem. Mycologists generally warn against eating any blue staining bolete species. A field check for bluing is easy and is accomplished by ruing a thin object across the pores. Breaking off a piece of the cap also promotes bluing.
The picture also brings to mind the old truism, buyer beware. Purchasing wild mushrooms from local vendors carries risks. Requesting vendors cut fresh mushrooms in half prior to purchase is a generally accepted practice at farmer's markets.
With mushrooms in hand, the actual drying process begins with preparing the mushroom. Preparation initially involves cleaning the mushrooms. Using a clean cloth to remove excess dirt, and where applicable pores, from the mushroom usually completes the cleaning process. Mushrooms tend to absorb water, so experts recommend against soaking them in water for cleaning purposes.
After the mushrooms are cleaned they can be sliced to a uniform size, often about an inch in length, and placed on the trays of a conventional dehydrator. Set the dehydrator at a low temperature, no higher than 120o, for approximately six hours. Higher drying temperatures tend to cook rather than merely dry mushrooms. When the mushroom pieces completely dry, they look leathery. Placed in an air tight container, expect the dried mushrooms to have two year shelf life two year shelf life.
© 2007-2016 Patricia A. Michaels.