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Fun with Fungi

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Sulphur Tufts, Hypholoma fasciculare, Trinidad (11/3/18) Gabriel Leete

Late October/early November are usually mushroom months, but with little rain so far in autumn, we’ve not yet seen much fungi photography.

To the rescue comes Shasta Cascade color spotter Gabriel Leete who drove to find a store of spore-born fungi in Shasta Cascade and North Coast forests.

Gabriel became fascinated with mushrooms when he was 19 (he’s now 46). So, he really knows the fungi he photographs. Leete wrote that he became interested in them when trying to find a certain fungi, then realized it had “deadly look alikes.”

So, he focused on learning how to identify mushrooms which led to exploring what edible fungi he might “take home for dinner.”

A word of caution: many California mushrooms are poisonous. Only if you are expert like Gabriel, should you attempt to dine on them. Not taking such a precaution could have you pushing up daisies.

Leete’s fascination with fungi made him serious not just about identifying fungi, but growing them, and eventually, mushroom microscopy. 

To tune his ability to identify one mushroom from another, he’s joined groups of expert mushroom hunters. They are so knowledgeable, that he’s learned a lot from them.

Mushrooms are both good for the environment and, if edible, good for you (full of nutrients and medicinal qualities).

MushroomShack.com reports that “mushrooms play an important role in the environment, breaking down logs, leaves, stems, and other organic matter in the forest to recycle essential nutrients. Many are vital to the growth and survival of trees. They form a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship, with the trees giving mushrooms glucose and mushrooms providing trees with essential minerals.

“Not all mushrooms grow on wood, though. Some grow from the ground, feeding on humus and organic materials in the soil.”

Pacific banana slug, Ariolimax californicus, devouring a Russula atroviolacea, Trinidad (11/3/18) Gabriel Leete

Friends, following is more fun-filled, factual fungi filler:

  • (Above) Sulphur Tufts are mildly poisonous and prolific, found throughout California. When fresh, the clustered caps are bright yellow to greenish-yellow, as are the gills and stem, though cap colors vary widely.
  • Russula atroviolacea, a type of fungi known for its bright color (Russula means red) is seen being devoured by a Pacific banana slug, Ariolimax californicus. Banana slugs are the mascot of the University of California, Santa Cruz (The university’s chancellor had chosen the Sea Lions, but the student body persisted in supporting the lowly mollusk as the school’s mascot. It has since been judged, on numerous occasions, as the nation’s best college mascot). Though banana slugs were a food source for North Coast Yurok Indians, their slime deadens tastebuds. Celebrated on a UCSC t-shirt, Sammy the Slug is identified by its motto, “No Known Predators.” Wikipedia advises, “Even when fed corn meal to purge them or soaked in vinegar to remove slime, the slugs’ flavor is not always well regarded.” Gabriel says their acrid flavor “gets worse the more you taste.” I guess the t-shirt got it right. 
  • (Below) Bracket Fungus, Ganoderma applanatum, also called shelf fungus is called “the artist’s fungus” due to its white to gray pore surface and brown bruising. It retains the brown bruising for years when picked and brought indoors.
  • Amanita muscria, var. guessowii buttons grow to be spectacular mushrooms, but are unigue and beautiful as buttons, as well. The Amanita muscaria are typically red with white dots on the cap and have been placed on many stamps, postcards, in books and cartoons. They vary from scarlet to yellow and are lethally poisonous. Look, don’t touch.
  • Postia ptychogaster, commonly known as the powder puff bracket, is a species of fungus in the family Fomitopsidaceae. The fungus resembles a powdery cushion that fruits on stumps and logs of rotting conifer wood.
  • The King Bolete, Boletus edulis is a world traveler, called the Cep in France and Steinpilz in Germany. This is a well-known, large mushroom favored for use in cooking pots by mushroom hunters. This example was small, young with a greasy/tacky, bald brown cap and a meaty swollen stem with fine reticulation (netting). The pore surface is usually white, with tightly spaced or “stuffed” pores, becoming more and more visible as it ages.
  • Stropharia ambigua are fairly large and at first bright yellow, fading with age. They become semi-slimy and adorned with drooping white veils. They are both beautiful and prolific … so much so that they’ve been called weeds due to how many grow along the coast.
  • Peppery Bolete, Chalciporus piperatus, are not something to eat, “losing their peppery flavor when cooked, and with so many other edible mushrooms growing in the same habitat, why bother?” Gabriel advises. 
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