Jeff Green | Oct 09, 2008
Outdoors - Wild Mushrooms
Back toHomeOutdoors in the LandO'Lakes - October 9, 2008 Wild Mushrooms Outdoors in the Land O'Lakes by Steve Blight
Destroying Angel, a deadly poisonous mushroom found in our area.
One of my favourite things about this time of year is the abundance of mushrooms that sprout in the forests and fields of our area.
A good place to start a column on mushrooms is to clarify what we mean by the word “mushroom”. Mushroom is a rather non-technical term that is usually understood to mean the fruiting body of a fungus, and this is the definition I prefer. It is also the standard name for the cultivated grocery store white button mushroom, so often the word is used to refer to fungi that have a stem, a cap, and gills on the underside of the cap, just as store-bought white mushrooms have.
Some people also make a distinction between toadstools and mushrooms, with toadstools used to refer to poisonous fungi and mushrooms for edible varieties. I recall my mother explaining this difference to me when I was a boy. The trouble with this distinction is that poisonous mushrooms range from just a little bit poisonous all the way to deadly – so where does one draw the line? However, the term toadstool seems to be disappearing from everyday use, being most often seen in stories when referring to poisonous or otherwise suspect mushrooms.
Many people first get interested in wild mushrooms by the prospect of finding choice edible species. There are a number of safe edible mushrooms in this area, but there are many poisonous species and some truly deadly ones as well. Moreover, some of the best edible species look very similar to poisonous varieties – being able to tell these apart is obviously extremely important. It cannot be stressed strongly enough that a person must be 100 percent sure that they know the identity of any mushrooms harvested from the wild and that they are safe to eat – mistakes can have deadly consequences! If you have any doubt, leave it be.
I have collected, cooked and tasted two kinds of wild mushrooms from our area – giant puffballs and morels. The puffball, which is a fall mushroom, was a major disappointment – it was dry and had an unpleasant flavour. Even after I added a ton of butter and garlic, it was just barely edible. Perhaps I did something wrong, but I am pretty sure that this specimen was the first and last puffball for me. On the other hand the morels, which pop up in the forest in spring, were quite good, although I would have been just as happy with a store-bought mushroom. Perhaps my palate is just not discerning enough to appreciate the delicate flavours of wild mushrooms.
Mushroom season in our area extends from spring until the fall, generally with many more seen at either end of the season. However, the number of mushrooms depends on the level of moisture in the soil, which is usually higher when temperatures are cooler and there is regular rainfall. Normally there are lots of mushrooms in the spring, fewer in the summer, especially in a dry summer, and another explosion when the temperature cools off a bit and the rains return in the fall. This year was a bit different – most soils were moist all summer, so we had more mushrooms this summer than usual.
Finally, no discussion of mushrooms would be complete without pointing out the critical role that fungi play in the environment. They help to recycle nutrients back into the environment as they hasten the decomposition of fallen trees and other dead plants and animals. In addition, many of our trees, shrubs and some of our favourite wildflowers could not thrive in the absence of fungi. These plants form a mutually beneficial relationship with fungi, exchanging essential nutrients and permitting both to thrive.