Mushroom Hunting

Paxillus mushrooms in filtered sun

“F.Y.I. the mushrooms are out!” read the note from my friend Bill in my in-box last Friday. “My Dad is finding them everywhere…”

I had to sigh a little. Bill’s dad lives north of us, on the mainland. Every Fall, he finds bushels of wonderful, edible, mushrooms.

I’m not so lucky down here on the island… Aside from the puffballs, which I never seem to find early enough for them to be any use, and the occasional bright-orange chicken of the woods, there aren’t a lot of edibles in my neck of the woods.

Poisonous paxillus

Which doesn’t mean I don’t hunt them. I just do it with a camera.

Mushrooms (and other fungi) fascinate me. They’re almost magical, popping up overnight from seemingly bare ground. Sometimes alone, other times, in enormous groups.

Lepiota mushrooms growing on a willow stump

Some pop out of dead trees, or wood chips in the compost pile. They come in every shape, color and texture imaginable. Some like the bright sun of the field, others hide in the shadows of the woods.


Some are quick to tell you their names – really, what would be more fitting than ‘puffball’ for a round, whitish globe that spews spores when stepped-on? Others are shy, keeping their names a closely-guarded secret from all but the most persistent scientist with a microscope. (And, even then, some are still up for debate…)

Parchment fungus on the end of a black cherry branch

On the ground, on a stump, high up in the branches of trees – they’re all around when conditions are right. Dry and papery, persisting for years, or fat and fleshy and gone in a heartbeat.

Mystery Mushroom

Hello, who are you? A new face in the neighborhood… Will you easily give up your name? I have my suspicions as to who you are – another inedible, unfortunately.  I know several things that you’re not. Your cap is dry, not slimy. You have a veil, a ring, and attached gills – very thin gills. A fat, fibrous stem, and spongy flesh. You smell like a mushroom should smell – earthy and sweet. Could I beg a small piece of your cap to take a spore print? Thank you. With any luck, by this time tomorrow I will know what to call you…

You photograph beautifully, by the way…

The best on-line site I’ve found for help in identifying mushrooms is (Link opens new window) The identification key is very user-friendly. And, it can’t be said often enough, Never eat a mushroom you’re not absolutely sure of!


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