Category Archives: mushrooms

Fungi and You

Oyster mushrooms

I’ll bet if you walk around your yard you’ll find mushrooms poking through the soil under trees, between shrubs, even next to the driveway. This has been a banner year for fungi as early rains then mild weather helped make our local fungi very happy. The edible ones are one of the most nutritious foods in the world, packed with antioxidants. Without fungus, we’d have no bread, cheese, beer or wine. Fortunately, I have a friend who is takes their identification very seriously and finds lots of delicious types on his mountain biking ventures and he likes to share. Thank you, Robby.

Honey mushrooms

The same cluster of dark brown mushrooms has come up again just outside my back door. Could they be edible? Might I be able to try out one of those delicious sounding recipes in my “Gourmet’s Guide to Mushroom Cookery”?

While there are many wild mushrooms growing in this area that are edible there are just as many that are poisonous. Mistakenly ingesting them can cause death or liver damage so severe that a transplant would be needed for you to survive. In November, Santa Cruz County received the second report of a hospitalized person who became seriously ill after eating mushrooms collected in the La Selva Beach area. According to the press release, both illnesses were probably due to the mushroom Amanita phalloides. Other common poisonous mushrooms found throughout the county are Amanita ocreata and Galerina autumnalis.

amanita muscari

The common name for these mushrooms are Death cap, Destroying angel, and Deadly galerina. A single mushroom can be fatal if eaten although surprisingly there is no harm in handling them. If you know what you are looking for they are fairly easy to identify. If you aren’t a mushroom expert the amanitas may look like just another white gilled mushroom similar to a meadow mushroom or the galerina just another little brown mushroom of which there are many related species of unknown edibility.

A couple years ago on a hike in Fall Creek with the Sierra Club, I saw many beautiful mushrooms. Chanterelle grew in several locations along the trail. Although they were positively identified, collecting in a state park is prohibited so we took pictures only. We found huge clumps of honey mushrooms that are often eaten but sometimes cause stomach upset. Why a person would consume this variety is beyond me but sure enough, there’s a recipe in my book for fresh swordfish steak smothered with a mixture of sliced shitake, oyster and honey mushrooms.

Coral fungi

We came across an impressive Coral fungi emerging from the forest duff. They are quite distinctive looking and many are edible. My Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms by David Aurora, however, states that even this unique looking family of fungi can be hard to identify. Many are mildly poisonous while some are edible.

So if it’s difficult to correctly identify edible mushrooms in the wild can you grow them yourself? It’s hard to achieve this in the back yard as fungi spores have a mind of their own as to where they want to live. Plus our temperate rain forest has no shortage of diverse mushroom types all spreading their own spores.

Several years ago at the Fungus Fair in Santa Cruz I purchased a package of oyster mushroom dowel plugs used to inoculate freshly cut heart wood. This method is not as easy as it sounds as you can’t use logs that are laying around in the forest because they may already be contaminated with other kinds of fungus. After 11 months of care my logs had yet to produce any oyster mushrooms. Undaunted I’ve now got a mushroom kit that consists of a plastic bag of growing medium containing Oyster mycelium. According to the instructions I should be harvesting mature size mushrooms in 2-3 weeks and get 4-5 crops from the kit. I’ll keep you posted.

There are over a thousand beautiful fungi to discover in our area. They live in such lovely places. Get out and enjoy the beauty of mushrooms. There’s fungus among us.

Fungi- The Good, the Bad & the Beautiful

A recent article in The Press Banner warned of the severe consequences of mistakenly eating poisonous mushrooms found in our area. With our early rainfall this season fungi are emerging at a record pace and if you are not an expert at identifying a particular variety of edible mushroom better leave them off the dining table. While there are many wild mushrooms growing in this area that are edible there are just as many that are poisonous. Mistakenly ingesting one can cause death or liver damage so severe that a transplant would be needed for you to survive.

Amanita muscaria

There are over a thousand beautiful fungi to discover in our area. They live in such lovely places. Each year I volunteer as a basketeer for the Fungus Fair that is organized by the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz. It’s held at the Louden Nelson Community Center in Santa Cruz on Friday afternoon, January 13th and continues on Saturday and Sunday, January 14th and 15th from 10:00am – 5:00pm.

Mushroom experts will be available throughout the fair to identify mushrooms you’ve found. Bring yours in a paper bag which keeps them fresher than plastic. You’ve got a week to collect remembering that those in our State Parks are off limits.

Honey mushrooms

The habitat display is what I help put together by creating baskets of some of the hundreds of mushroom species commonly found in the Santa Cruz and neighboring counties. It is one of the main attractions of the Fungus Fair. Volunteers collect different types of tree, leaf and duff material for the tables and main centerpiece that will display fungi by order and family. It’s an easy way to get started learning which ones are poisonous, good eating and just plain beautiful or unusual.

During the fair renowned speakers will talk about mushroom toxicity, identification, myth busting and even mushroom medicine along with cooking demonstrations and tastings of exceptionally good fungal fare. The Kid’s Room which is open on Saturday and Sunday has mushroom arts and crafts, face painting and making dyed fabrics. You can even look at fungi spores through a microscope.

Most foragers enjoy the hunt for fungi as well as eating them in a good meal. Me, I seem to take more photographs than specimens. Getting down at their level as they emerge from the earth, looking to see if their undersides have gills or pores or other identifying features, makes one appreciate our entire ecosystem and how we fit in. In most any meadow or mixed forest you are sure to discover varieties you’ve never seen before.

Coral fungi found in Fall Creek St Park

I recently came across an impressive coral fungi emerging from the forest duff. They are quite distinctive looking and many are edible. My Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms by David Aurora, however, states that even this unique looking family of fungi can be hard to identify. Some are edible while many are mildly poisonous.

Don’t miss the opportunity to see hundreds of fungi up close and personal as well as take in all the talks, displays, food and marketplace next weekend at the Fungus Fair.

Happy New Year 2013 from The Mountain Gardener

It's a humbling experience to read some of my past columns celebrating the New Year. Once you write something down it's there forever. Like a social media post it can haunt you. Such lofty goals I've set for myself over the years. But now it's that time of year when I look around the garden and think about the good things I accomplished and some that didn't get done.  A garden reflects our lives- always room for growth as well as reflection.

We live in a rain forest. Easy to remember the past few weeks as gentle and not so gentle raindrops fall on the thick redwood duff beneath the trees.  Mushrooms of every color and type poke through leaves still bright with the shades of fall. Last year was pretty dry until March. Not that great for fungi but this year should be spectacular. All the better to continue learning about our local mushrooms. It's one of my favorite goals for the New Year. The fungus fair in Santa Cruz is coming up the weekend of January 11th and I want to be better informed before my volunteer shift as a basketeer arrives.

Each year I pledge to plant more things to eat. Edibles in the garden feed both the body and the soul. They are more than just vegetables and fruit trees. When you grow something you are being a good steward of the land as you enrich the topsoil using sustainable organic techniques. You can connect with neighbors by trading your extra pumpkins for their persimmons. Knowledge of how and what to grow can be exchanged, seeds swapped.
Growing edibles is more that time spent doing healthy physical work it's connecting us to the earth and to each other.

This year I was able to visit gardens in far away places such as Poland to learn about Eastern European landscaping styles and traditions. Some were very different than what we are used to here in western gardens. Gardeners, though, are the same everywhere-eager to show off and share. I also had the opportunity to visit Abkhazi Garden and the famous Butchart Garden in Victoria, British Columbia during the summer. Nothing can prepare you for the wonder that can be created out of nothing. I came back overflowing with inspiration for my landscape designs.

Next I plan to visit Chihuly Gardens in Seattle and a green wall installation in Tacoma. There's no better way to recharge your creative batteries than to see an inspiring garden. Even a walk around your neighborhood can give you ideas for your own garden. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a huge boulder and wished I could magically transport it to my own yard.

New Years resolutions for gardeners should be mere suggestions. Don't get hung up on achieving everything you would like. Your wish list will serve you well during the cold, wet days of winter even if you don't get them implemented. Sure planning a landscape that conserves water will benefit the environment and your budget. And ordering seeds for the spring garden is great therapy for winter blues and future meals. But there's always next year or next month or the summer after next.

Dreaming is more than an idle pursuit. It's good for you and improves the quality of your life over the long haul. So don't worry if you don't get to everything you hoped to accomplish. It's all in the baby steps. We gardeners are eternal optimists. Why else would be plant a tree or a seed or a garden?

Happy New Year from The Mountain Gardener.