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Walking Right Past Them

Amanita Muscaria, Patrick’s Point State Park, Trinidad (12/9/18) Gabriel Leete

If you’re not attentive, it’s easy to walk right past mushrooms.

However, as Gabriel Leete shows in this collection, when you do, you’re missing a beautiful aspect of late fall color, as their color and form are endlessly fascinating. 

Gabriel works at the California Welcome Center in Anderson (I-5, south of Redding). Just north of the Welcome Center is Anderson River Park where Gabriel often looks down to find mushrooms, though Gabriel also treks to the North Coast to discover them pushing up through the detritus.

Mushrooms appear on forest floors, soon after it rains. They grow quickly because rather than use cell division, as animals and most plants do, they employ cell enlargement, allowing mushrooms to grow as rapidly as they can take in water.

Within hours, a mushroom can grow from something the size of a pinhead to the Cortinarius that Gabriel is holding below.

Gabriel Leete admires a variety of Cortinarius, Patrick Point State Park, Trinidad (12/9/18) Self-portrait

Gabriel has been hunting mushrooms for nearly two decades and knows his fungi. He’s the first to say, that one person’s edible chanterelle might, upon closer inspection, be a poisonous variety of Cortinarius. So, expertise and caution are required when adding wild mushrooms to your diet.

However, he also believes mushrooms have gotten a bad rap. They’re full of B vitamins, writes, “especially niacin and riboflavin, and rank the highest among vegetables for protein content. But because they are low in fat and calories, Western nutritionists mistakenly considered them of no food value (a fresh pound has only about 125 calories). Yet in dried form, mushrooms have almost as much protein as veal and a significant amount of complex carbohydrates called polysaccharides. Shiitake mushrooms are among the most delicious & very nutritious.”

Because they grow from decaying matter, they’re all somewhat disgusting, but also things of beauty. And, of course, they can be deadly.

In 2012, The London Telegraph reported that 18 Italian mushroom hunters, “died in just a 10-day period. Many of them had forgone proper footwear, clothing and equipment and died after steep falls down Alpine slopes.” One of them was a 65-year-old woman who fell 40 feet to her death near the Swiss border.

My sordid attempt at humor aside, while there is the hazard of hunting them on wet, slippery slopes, there is also the possibility of eating a poisonous variety. Of one thing is certain, there’s no sitting on a fence when judging a mushroom, even though they often do. 

Here are some of the beauties and beasts, Gabriel has found on recent walks through the woods.

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Fun with Fungi

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). 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. 

Mushroom Magic

Ink cap, Coprinus atramentarius (11/7/17) Gabriel Leete

Stump mushroom, Armillaria mellea (11/7/17) Gabriel Leete

Shasta Cascade mushroom forager and color spotter, Gabriel Leete brings us photos of the most amazing mushrooms and plants.

Ink cap (seen above) rise in clumps after a rain are usually found in tight groups, so they are easily seen from a distance. The grey-brown cap is bell-shaped before opening, after which it flattens and disintegrates. At maturity, the black liquid it exudes used to be used as ink, hence its name.

Stump mushrooms (Armillaria mellea) are often found, as the name implies around the base of trees. In an ode to Avatar, the Armillaria are capable of producing light via bioluminescence in their mycelium.


Agaricus (11/7/17) Gabriel Leete

Agaricus is a genus of mushroom of which the well-known button mushroom is a member. However, just because the button mushroom is edible, that does not mean the mushroom you may pick is. Certain types of Agaricus are poisonous.

If you don’t know for certain that a mushroom is edible, don’t attempt to cook it. Regardless, foraging for them is a fun way to explore an autumn forest, particularly following fresh rains.

Mushrooms, Shasta Cascade – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Datura stramonium (11/7/17) Gabriel Leete

Exotic Datura stramonium or Jimson weed (native to Mexico, but now naturalizing in many places) is a member of the nightshade family and is highly toxic. Gabriel found one during his wanderings.

Datura is known by many names: thornapple, devil’s snare, moon flower, hell’s bells, devil’s trumpet, devil’s weed, stinkweed, locoweed, devil’s cucumber and others because of the intense halucinogenic visions it produces, which have led to hospitalization and death… not something with which to experiment.


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Peak of the Week: Making Room for Schrooms

Pluteus spp (11/16/16) Gabriel Leete

Pluteus spp (11/15/16) Gabriel Leete

Bolbitus titubans (11/16/16) Gabriel Leete

Bolbitus titubans (11/15/16) Gabriel Leete

Ink cap [Corinus lagopus] (11/16/16) Gabriel Leete

Ink cap [Corinus lagopus] (11/15/16) Gabriel Leete

honey mushroom [Armillaria mellea] (11/16/16) Gabriel Leete

honey mushroom [Armillaria mellea] (11/15/16) Gabriel Leete

Deadly Galerina [Galerina marginata] (11/16/16) Gabriel Leete

Deadly Galerina [Galerina marginata] (11/15/16) Gabriel Leete

False turkey tail [Stereum ostrea] (11/16/16) Gabriel Leete

False turkey tail [Stereum ostrea] (11/15/16) Gabriel Leete

Gabriel Leete makes room for mushrooms in autumn.

The Shasta Cascade color spotter enjoys searching the woods for edible and otherwise fascinating mushrooms.

He sends back these images taken this week near Anderson. Recent rains have helped encourage mushroom hunting in the Shasta Cascade, which we declare to be Peak of the Week.

Gabriel writes (drawing text from Wikipedia searches for his descriptions) that the Pluteus are wood-decomposing saprobes with gills that are free from the stem and pink spore prints. These were found growing upon wood chips.

Bolbitius titubans, also known as Bolbitius vitellinus, is a widespread specie of inedible mushroom found in American and Europe.  It grows primarily on dung or heavily fertilized soil, sometimes on grass.

Ink cap (Coprinus lagopus) is a specie of fungus in the family Psathyrellaceae. It is a delicate and short-lived fungus, the fruit bodies lasting only a few hours before dissolving into a black ink – a process called deliquescence.

Armillaria mellea, commonly known as honey fungus, is a basidiomycete fungus in the genus Armillaria. It is a plant pathogen and part of a cryptic species complex of closely related and morphologically similar species.

Deadly Galerina is exactly as described… it is poisonous. Galerina marginata is a specie of poisonous mushroom in the family Hymenogatraceae of the order Agaricales. The specie is a classic “little brown mushroom“—a catchall category that includes all small to medium-sized, hard-to-identify brownish mushrooms, and may be easily confused with several edible species.

False turkey tail looks like one, doesn’t it?  That’s because of the concentric circles of many colors seen on the Stereum ostrea specie. This variety is a wood decay fungus that grows on tree bark. Native to North America, it grows year round.

Caution: do not eat wild mushrooms, unless you are expert at identifying them, as many poisonous varieties resemble their edible cousins.

Mushroom Hunting, Shasta Cascade – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

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