Nature walk: Mushroom Heaven
Public walks and trails were the plan for my “Nature Walks” category, but my recent “mushroom” walk in the woods behind my house was so interesting, that I had to share it with you.
This is not a large woods. It is, in fact, a strip of green-space wedged between two neighborhoods and below a larger green-space. It consists of mostly big leaf maple with some Douglas fir and red cedar. Beneath those trees are lots of Oregon grape, sword fern, blackberries and nettle, to mention a few, and I’ve even found some Solomon’s seal. It is inhabited by quite a large variety of wildlife for being such a small space. Besides countless species of birds I have seen red squirrels, deer, raccoons and coyotes. Deer and raccoons come right into our backyard so we can meet them up close. The coyotes stay mostly in the woods. But when they decide to have a late night howling party it sounds like they are right on our deck! Needless to say there is a lot going on in this little woods!
On this particular walk the only animal I saw was one noisy squirrel who came surprisingly close, and the skull of what I think was a coyote. I wondered why just the skull….where was the rest? Then I read that sometimes coyotes will eat dead coyotes, or a large enough bird could actually lift it up and carry it away, then pick it clean.
But the thing that made this walk specially interesting was the mushrooms. So many mushrooms! This cooler weather and some rain makes this the perfect season for them to grow in places like this. I’m not at all a mushroom expert, but I do know some basics. One basic is that there are so many different kinds of mushrooms it makes my head spin!
There are four classes of mushrooms:
- parasitic (grow on a host and often kill it)
- endophytic (lives in a host without hurting it)
- mycorrhizal (have a symbiotic bond with the host)
- saprophytic (decompose dead trees and plants and build forest soil).
The mushroom itself is like the fruit and the bearer of spores. It grows from a network of mycelium that grow beneath the fruit. The life of a mushroom is a complex process, but very interesting indeed and really worth learning. Here is a whole website devoted to mushrooms by mycologist Paul Stamets. Also Paul’s beautiful short video about how important mushrooms are in our ecosystem.
Now you have had your mushroom lesson for the day.
I must mention that my cat Wilbur follows me just to the edge of our property and no further. Here he is on his lookout where he waits for me. I think he knows that coyotes are running things out there…. it is not his world. So he stays behind and patrols his own realm. Somehow he manages to stay safe.
So here are my finds. I am not even going to attempt to identify any of the mushrooms in the photos…..maybe some day… but for now, since you already had your mushroom lesson, this is purely for your enjoyment, as it was mine!
I have a book to suggest if you are looking for a pocket field guide for mushrooms of the west. I just bought it and I can’t stop looking at it! “All That the Rain Promises” comes highly recommended by other mushroom hunters, and I see why…..because it has great descriptions and pictures, and the guy who wrote it is pretty funny. He really gives you a good attitude about mushrooms. It’s a delightful book even if you don’t want to collect mushrooms but just want to read it and look at the great pictures.