Foraging for Mushrooms: A Wild Edibles Nature Study

Foraging for Mushrooms: A Wild Edibles Nature Study @EvaVarga.netOne of the things I just love about the Oregon coast is the plethora of fungi. This past week, my daughter and I attended a Fall Mushrooms class at the interpretive center. It was a fabulous class whereby we learned to not only identify many of the local species but we also learned which are edible.

We spent the first couple of hours in the classroom engaged in a lecture format whereby the instructor began with an introduction to basic mycology. He walked through the life cycle of mushrooms and as well as the anatomy of a mature mushroom.

He also shared a slide presentation of the species we were likely to see. With each photograph, he discussed the species’ habitat preferences (in other words, where they were most likely to be found) and the typical time of year they were most prominent.

fungilifecycle

We then took a short break and proceeded down the trail for our foraging excursion. We didn’t find too many in the first half mile or so of the trail. Those we did find had begun to decay so we were beginning to get a little discouraged. Perhaps we were too late in the season?

We didn’t give in however, and our perseverance paid off. The group had begun to spread out and cheerful exclamations of “I found Chantrelles!” or “Wow! Look at the size of these!” could be heard in the near distance.

velvetbolete

Here is a list of just a few of the species we found:

  • Hawk Wing
  • Chantrelle (illustrated above)
  • Velvet Bolete (illustrated above)
  • Beef Steak (pictured at top)
  • Pine Spike (illustrated above)
  • Oysters
  • False Chantrelle
  • Lobsters
  • Slippery Jack
  • Blue Polyphore
  • Coral
  • Toadstool (toxic)

Without doubt, the best mushroom text available is Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora. Published in 1986, it is an encyclopedia of mushroom facts and lore, lavishly illustrated with full-color photographs, literally everything you need to know about mushrooms, edible or not. Any botanical field guide should have is a good dichotomous key and Arora provides a very good key. The photos are excellent and the color plates are spectacular. This is a hefty volume, however, it is not the best for field identification.

The author has thereby released a field companion All That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms. This pocket-size book allows for quick and easy identification of common mushrooms. It also provides delicious recipes and stories of friends and funny anecdotes are sprinkled among hard facts.

Another favorite resource is the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms. Organized visually, this book groups all mushrooms by color and shape to make identification simple and accurate in the field. With more than 700 mushrooms detailed with color photographs and text, this is a great guide for identification in the field.

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We’ve always enjoyed taking part in the monthly challenges at Handbook of Nature Study. This month, our selected challenge was Make a List.

Rainy Days and Fridays: Winter Nature Walks

Nature study has always been a major component of our homeschool. I must admit that when the kids were younger, we ventured outside more regularly and they sketched in their nature journals every week.

Now that they are older and are more involved in extracurriculars as well as social activities, it takes a little more planning on my part to assure that we continue to venture out for leisurely walks.

rainydays

Here in Northern California, we are in the midst of a drought. The water levels have been so low at Shasta Lake that old bridges and railroad tunnels that had been flooded when Shasta Dam was built in the 1940s are now visible again (see my post Feast or Famine: An Historical Nature Study).  We have been praying for rain and these past couple of months, our prayers have been answered.

Winter Nature Walks

When I shared with our local homeschool community the date for our winter nature walk outing, their response was, “But what if it rains?”

In the words of Charlotte Mason, “The fact is, that rain, unless of the heaviest, does the children no harm at all if they are suitably clothed.”

I assured everyone that we would proceed forth in drizzle and chill – just come prepared in wellies and layers. The rains provide us with the opportunity to make wonderful observations .. to study erosion, sedimentation, plant adaptations, and of course weather patterns. Muddy or snow covered ground makes tracking animals so much easier.

Norwegian Proverb: Det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlige klær. 
[ There’s no bad weather, just bad clothing. ]

What I love best about these rainy nature study days is the abundance of fungi we are able to observe. imageWe have seen so many fascinating fungi over the years; our favorite is Fly Agaric.

Nature nevers disappoints and this last month we observed several species we haven’t seen before – at least not here in NorCal. It can be a challenge to identify them sometimes, but that is the educational reward upon our return home.

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Submitted to the December Handbook of Nature Study Outdoor Hour Challenge.

Fascinating Fungi

While visiting family in southern Oregon recently, I’d opted to go for a run around Empire Lakes (a favorite trail in town). As I rounded a corner, I was startled by a doe in the middle of the trail. I came to a stop in hopes I might be able to take her photo but she moved back into the undergrowth before I had a chance to pull my phone out of the arm sleeve. I thereafter decided it might be best to keep my phone in hand … perhaps I would encounter a sibling further along the trail.

As I continued on my run, it soon became apparent to me that the naturalist within me was in conflict with the runner within me. I kept stopping to take pictures of the fungi I observed on the side of the trail. I don’t recall seeing such diversity of fungi in the past and was spellbound.
mushroomsMy daughter is fascinated with fungi and I was disappointed that she wasn’t with me. Though not quite the same, I consoled myself with knowing we could do a nature study lesson with the photographs alone. Had I had a way of carrying a few specimens home – I would have. But a las, the runner in me reminded me that I had a job to do, a goal in mind.

I was surprised to see many of the specimens had been kicked over. Many others were in various states of decay. I would have loved to come back with the kids and our microscope to make more careful observations.

mushrooms

Coincidentally, I’d also read in the local paper that there was a fungus festival in Eugene. I have never yet attended one – the opportunity always seems to escape me. Someday. I even have it on our bucket list and I keep a list of possibilities as I learn of them. Here are a few in the western states:

Fungus Foray & Wild Mushroom Expo – San Juan Ridge, Nevada City, CA
Mushroom Festival – Mt Pisgah, Eugene, OR
Mushroom Fair – Humboldt, CA
Fungus Foray – Santa Cruz, CA

I’m sure there are more. If you know of one in your local area, leave a link in the comments below. Also consider linking to posts of your own fungi experiences. 🙂

Submitted to the November Handbook of Nature Study Outdoor Hour Challenge.

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