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The agaric mushroom (this particular one is an Eastern yellow fly agaric) looks like the classic illustration from a fairy tale. Photo by Pamm Cooper

A Very Good Year for Wild Mushrooms

Foraging

We get monthly articles on gardening and nature from the University of Connecticut, and this month’s missive is about wild mushrooms, and was written by Pamm Cooper.

“This year was an excellent one environmentally for mushrooms,” she reports. “Many species have recently shown up on lawns, in gardens, in the woods and many other places.”

It’s so very tempting to want to hunt for them and eat them. It is a fun and delicious adventure — but potentially fatal or, at best, sickening and unpleasant.

Don’t just take my word for it; Cooper also warns that, “While many are edible, many mushrooms are not, and some are poisonous. It is not a good idea to eat any mushrooms if you are not able to identify them correctly. There are many look-alikes, so this is a job for an expert.”

From time to time, there are workshops with mushroom experts such as David Paton. He and other mycologists can safely steer you toward mushrooms you can eat. And of course many local farmstands and markets have wonderful mushrooms that you can buy.

But it’s always fun to be out in the woods, either purposefully seeking fungi or stumbling upon some interesting specimen nestled under some leaf debris.

Pamm Cooper has an idea: If you find an interesting mushroom and you feel strongly that you want to take it home and do something with it (as opposed to photographing it and posting the image on social media), try making a mushroom spore print. The short version of how to do this is to get a fresh mushroom, take off the stem, and put the cap, gill side down, on a sheet of paper. The spores will come out and make an image.   

Cooper recommends that you use the “Peterson Field Guide to Mushrooms” if you want to try and identify some of the mushrooms you find on your lawn or in the woods. But she offers a few descriptions of species you might find at this time of year.

Puffballs, for example, “appear in late summer and early fall. Most start off as white, gray or light brown and may be lumpy, round, smooth or slightly spiny. Most have no stalk. Often these are familiar to people who encounter the familiar Langermannia giganteum, which appear as white balls on their lawns.

“The gem-studded puffball Lycoperdon perlatum is white and has small warts and spines on the capsule that give it a gem- like appearance.

“The most recognizable mushroom in the world is the fly agaric. The red cap studded with white warts makes this mushroom easy to recognize.

“The Eastern yellow fly agaric has a bright yellow cap and white scales that may fall off with age. This agaric is usually found under pines, spruce, hemlocks, birch, oaks and poplars.

“Both of these agarics start off as a rounded cap studded with white that will eventually flatten out, reaching 6 or more inches across. Both are from the Amanita family and are poisonous.”

Have fun but remember: Even if you have a Peterson field guide, you should never eat anything unless an experienced mushroom hunter shares it with you. And some mushrooms might be toxic to the touch, so it might be a good idea to wear gloves if you handle a mushroom you’re not familiar with.

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