Thursday, December 8, 2011

Searching for the Fungus Among Us

Sometimes you see the most amazing things when you’re paying attention.  A Ballard birder I know saw five orca whales (with a baby!) swim past the beach at Seattle’s Golden Gardens Park a few weeks ago.  Never been that lucky. 

But here in the Pacific Northwest, our forests and many patches of earth even in cities are teeming with ubiquitous, otherworldly, and ever variable fungi. We have thousands of varieties here lurking in dark corners, under leaves, on decaying downed trees, and sometimes in your front lawn. They especially love our damp climate here west of the Cascade Mountains.

Last weekend on my weekly hike through the forest trails in Carkeek Park in north Seattle, my niece and I ended up on a quest to shoot mushrooms—with cameras.

“Wow, look at that!” exclaimed my niece, pointing out a florid-looking fungus growing on a log beside the trail. But this was like a Halloween version of a floral display, dark gray with rusty-orange “buds” and weird fang-like spikes on their underside.

Now I’m the first to admit I don’t go hunting for chanterelles, morels, or other wild edible mushrooms, although I enjoy eating them. I leave foraging to the pros. And I’m not a true naturalist.  I don’t know what the names are of these fungi. But once we got started looking, it was like an organic scavenger hunt, a challenge to see as many as we could.

Moss-covered, decomposing downed logs were the best spots. And there the mushrooms were, gray and smooth, dark brown and in clumps, small and delicate, mossy green, biomorphic, with DNA somewhere between human and plant.

We didn’t touch any because, well, you never know. Some are highly toxic, with names like Death Cap.  When I was a kid, a group in Portland cooked dinner with some wild mushrooms they harvested. Four died that night and two needed liver transplants.

So instead we looked, found, and shot.

Can you name any of these? 

When You Go
The Puget Sound Mycological Society has regular events and foraging trips led by experts. In the Portland area, check out the Oregon Mycological Society for similiar educational events and outings. If you want to explore further online, check out the Pacific Northwest Fungi Database out of Washington State University.


JT said...


Lindsey said...

Fungus is so cool! It is like art almost :)

Anonymous said...

Fungus is awesome!