Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Seeing Things

This year has been lean for mushrooms here. "Usually" this white coral fungus comes out in November all along the south edge of our property. It finally appeared a few days ago in a few little clumps. The needles are douglas fir needles, about 1" long.

I first stated learning about mushrooms when I moved here 6 years ago. Those first two years were awesome mushroom years. I have a photo album full of photos cataloging about 90 distinct kinds(I numbered them because I didn't know their names yet). Each year I go through and pencil in when I find them, kind of like recording wildfower blossom times(which I also keep record of). At first I thought mushrooms were as regular and dependable as wildflowers, but I've discovered they appear on entirely their own capricious schedule.

By far the most mass of a mushroom or fungus is hidden in the ground or in a rotting log. The mushroom we see is it's "flower", which it sends up to release spores only when the underground "roots" have gathered enough nutrients to support making the "flower". This may take years. You can learn what trees and environments certain species prefer and make an educated guess as to where you might find some, but know that in the end they can be maddeningly unpredictable and elusive and puzzling--which makes finding mushrooms akin to finding pirate gold(and mushroom lovers will know what I mean!).

SO, how to find them. I've started reading Stirring the Mud by Barbara Hurd. Here's a few paragraphs about what makes a good mushroom finder, by way of thinking about looking:

"It is, perhaps the single thread running through mysticism--that you must wait patiently, that to go hunting what is mysterious and life changing with a magnifying glass or a jabstick, armed with intent and a sense of your own deserving goodness is futile. Biologists say that wild animals often interpret a head-on stare as an act of aggression. The moment you decide to stare down the periphery, it is no longer periphery. What might have beeen there either will overwhelm you, or more likely, will sink out of sight, melt back into the trees, retreat into the inaccessible reaches of memory.
"The paradox is that to see clearly, you must learn to see obliquely. You must look ahead and, at the same time, widen your peripheral vision so that it extends not just in great arcs around your head, but over the ege, into the margins where the visible and invisible, dreams and reality, land ans water, emptiness and profusion mingle. It exists at the edge of things, in the vast margins, like a wild animal. The trick is to wander there without intention, to float eye-to-eye with fringed orchids, to make yourself available to what lives there..." page 12-13

Amazing what mushrooms have to teach us....

On a sad note, I have to return Mushrooms Demystified, by David Arora, back to the library. It's a wonderfully thick and dense field guide to CA-OR-WA 'shrooms, with all the technical hoo-hah, humor and off-kilter nicknames that come from true love("wuv, twu wuv"!). Here are a few too good to pass up(I suspect Arora made some up):

Lizard's Claw Stinkhorn
Dung-Loving Bird's Nest Fungus
Starving Man's Licorice
Hairy Fairy Cap
Chicken Lips
Dead Man's Fingers
Dead Man's Foot
Poor Man's Gumdrop
Big Laughing Mushroom
Train Wrecker
Plums and Custard
Woman On Motorcycle
Poison Pie
Slippery Jill
Pungent Slippery Jack
Acrobatic Earth Star

Hmmm, back to the white coral fungus---Scalped Cauliflower? Branching Bone? Frozen Exploding Pimple?


Wanderin' Weeta said...


Nice coral mushroom!


Dead Man's Fingers
Poison Pie
Pungent Slippery Jack

I've seen these names before. But these are new to me, and very funny:

Starving Man's Licorice
Chicken Lips
Big Laughing Mushroom

The Lizard's Claw Stinkhorn does look just like a lizard's claw. So it's a sensible name. More or less.

I like "Woolly Chroogomphus" and "Caesar's Fiber Head".

cyndy said...

Great names!

Do you have indian pipe out there?
(corpse plant, ice plant)

Thanks for the tip on the titles...

Larry said...

I own quite a few mushroom books, but Mushrooms Demystified is probably the most complete field guide and the one I turn to first.

Arora's advice on identifying LBMs ("little brown mushrooms") is spot-on: that way lies madness, and life is too short to devote much time to such ID efforts.