All Mushrooms are Magic

When declaring my excitement for going "shrooming" in my new backyard, I was asked, "are you looking for magic mushrooms?"

 Not poisonous, but you wouldn’t like to eat it, unless you are a squirrel.

Not poisonous, but you wouldn’t like to eat it, unless you are a squirrel.

In college, I had my magic mushroom experimentation experience. My then boyfriend (now husband) thought we would try the “magic” (Psilocybe sp.) mushrooms his roommate gave us. They tasted bad, so we downed them with a bottle or two of wine.

 At lunch: “Waiter, waiter, there is a shroom in my soup!” “Quiet, the other guests may want to identify it.”

At lunch: “Waiter, waiter, there is a shroom in my soup!” “Quiet, the other guests may want to identify it.”

Why not?

It was fun to see new colors all around me. My hands and feet stretched out for what felt like miles. "Here kitty, kitty..." looking for the cat was an Alice in Wonderland adventure as we swam through the house.

Things were spinning a bit too much, and I became aware that I wasn't in control anymore. I saw a serpent dragon dive through the bed covers.

 These mushroom cupcakes are safe to eat, but they look like a trippy  Amanita mascaria  (not good to eat.)

These mushroom cupcakes are safe to eat, but they look like a trippy Amanita mascaria (not good to eat.)

I lay in bed knowing that my breathing was slowing and my heartbeats were gradually getting farther apart, weaker, fainter, and fewer... I was convinced, "I am going to die."

But I didn't.

I woke up the next morning just fine. Well, maybe a bit hung over, but alive none the less. I decided that my husband's wild mushroom stroganoff and his chanterelle mushroom turkey stuffing were the extent of my mushroom experimentation.

But, to make stroganoff and turkey stuffing, we had to go out collecting, and that is where I fell in love with mushrooms.

One of the downsides of living in the great Pacific north-west is the rain. But with the showers come one of the benefits: mushrooms.

I want to learn more about our local mushrooms, so I attended Puget Sound Mycological Society (PSMS) Mushroom 201a mushroom identification class at the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Agriculture. And last month, I spent a fun fungus afternoon at the 55th Annual Wild Mushroom Show sponsored by PSMS.

I believe that all mushrooms are magic.

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Mushrooms of all shapes, sizes, colors, and textures were on display and grouped according to the way the bear their reproductive spores. We toured the trays remembering a few old friends. Agarics (gilled), Boletes, veined mushrooms, puffballs, cup fungi, polyspores, jellies, and clubs were gathered and available for our inspection.

 Ask an expert. My mushrooms weren’t anything special, but they were my discovery.

Ask an expert. My mushrooms weren’t anything special, but they were my discovery.

It was busy at the Mushroom Identification Table. I had to wait in line to have my specimens examined. I brought four different mushrooms wrapped in wax paper. Three from my backyard and one from my sister’s front yard - Yard Shrooms.

"This is a bolete because you can see the tubes under the cap, and it is dark on the top..." Danny, the Volunteer Mushroom Expert at the Mushroom Identification Table evaluated the qualities of my samples. "This is Zeller's bolete," he declares with pride and confidence. “You can see the dark leathery cap, and the pores on the underside… and the color of the stem…”

I had a Zeller’s Bolete (Boletus zelleri), a honey mushroom (Armillaria sinapina), a hard to identify species of Clitocybe sp., and a pear-shaped puffball from my sister’s house (Lycoperdon pyriforme).

It was like the "Antiques Road Show." I brought my goodies for assessment, but their only value was a good time.

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My mushrooming partner and I checked out the tables with crafts and how to dye fabric with mushrooms. There was a "Mushroom Haunted House" were musky smelly mushrooms were displayed in the dark under UV lights.

I liked the smell of the mushroom cooking demonstrations, and there was a room where people could make their very own mushroom growing kit. I bought some cultivated Italian pioppini mushrooms to top our homemade pizza.

 Inside the Mushroom Haunted House, the shrooms were all a ghostly glow.

Inside the Mushroom Haunted House, the shrooms were all a ghostly glow.

 Yarns, died with mushrooms.

Yarns, died with mushrooms.

At the Puget Sound Mycological Society’s Mushroom 201a - Beginning Identification Class, we had piles of mushrooms, all gathered by eager students, arranged in take-out food containers for us to attempt to identify.

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The curriculum included “what is taxonomy?” and “what is identification?” We practiced observing and describing mushrooms, identification methods, and (the big one) how to use dichotomous keys.

Like most biology classes, there is a lot of mushroom jargon, a.k.a, “technical terminology.“

Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, then comes Family, Genera, and Species. A neat and specific structure to all things mushroom.

Then things get messy.

 First question in keying mushrooms: Gills or no gills? This one has gills.

First question in keying mushrooms: Gills or no gills? This one has gills.

 This mushroom does not have gills. That was the easy part.

This mushroom does not have gills. That was the easy part.

Gill attachment, decurrent? Shape, pulvinate? Spore color, pink to salmon? Surface, floccose? Stem, saccate? Partial veil, doubly-flared? Habit? Habitat?

Luckily, Mycology Expert Steve gave us an “Easy Guide to Mushroom Descriptions” with little cartoon drawings to help us visualize terms used by most mushroom guide books. “Ha, there it is…” Not so easy.

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Aminita, agarica, gilled mushrooms, truffles, crusts, morels, earthstars, cup fungi; some slimy, some veined, some blue, some pink, all little gems that pop when conditions are just right. Hidden in the ecosystem, they grow in the damp quiet substrate waiting for their time to reproduce. When all factors are in alignment, they make their presence known to the world. Like Dr. Seuss's "Horton Hears a Who" they shout "We're here, we're here, we're here!" awaiting discovery.

Squirrels, insects, and birds eat mushrooms. The remains turn into a slimy, messy unidentifiable pile of muck. Fungi decompose leaves and forest litter and help trees absorb nutrients. They are nutritious, therapeutic, and an integral part of all ecosystems.

I think they are beautiful.

Mushrooms appear from nowhere, they live their life, then disappear into thin air. That's magic.

I don't need to trip-out on hallucinogenic mushrooms. Been there, done that. But a walkabout in the woods looking for hidden gems?

Give me a moment to grab my camera and my collecting basket. Let's go.

 “And who’s been nibbling on my mushroom?”

“And who’s been nibbling on my mushroom?”