Is it me or is there more mushrooms fruiting now than you' ve ever seen before? Why now is a good question? Well, two things in sync with each other have jumped into my mind and I believe there has recently been a raise in consciousness for fungi and recent climate chaotic events have created the perfect conditions for fruiting and actually 'seeing' them as key to nature.
When I ask clients if they have seen the movie Fantastic Fungi it is frequently yes. This is a visually stunning time-lapse movie filmed by Louis Schwartzberg. It was released this March before the beloved Morel season. Perfect timing. The movie, in my opinion, has successfully raised the consciousness of its watchers and the present fruiting bombardment is noticed. There they are. Right there beside you all of a sudden.
The second reason everyone is noticing wild mushrooms is on a more serious note. I have witnessed drastic regional climate events in the area since the deadly ice storm decades ago. This damage to our forests is harming our beloved trees and mushrooms have come to clean up and literally save the forest. Ice storms, major floods, droughts and tornadoes have plagued our valley in a very short time. All of them were record setting climate events. Widow makers are everywhere and rotting waterlogged hardwoods are littering the forest floor. The funga kingdom have a lot of work to do to bring our area back into balance. Fungi will chew through everything and make a rich mineralized soil for life to begin again. It is estimated that 90% of the flora kingdom has a mutualistic relationship with the funga kingdom so their presence is very welcomed even though they are infamously known as the mighty slimy recyclers. You might think I misspelled fungi as funga, but the terminology is changing to be in line with other kingdoms, Flora, Fauna and Funga. Fungi refers to more than one fungus.
Where did the mushrooms come from anyway? It's complicated. Fungi that we can see with our human eye are both sexual and asexual creatures. Sexually, two different hyphae can find each other under the soil and fuse to create a fruiting body. Asexually, a fruiting body can disperse spores. Mysteriously, the spores then lie dormant until given the right environmental conditions to produce a fruiting body. Fungi are reputed to like chaos. Lightning, fires and shit to name a few...
Nik Money who is an expert on fungal growth and reproduction mentioned on a recent Mushroom Revival podcast that more than 50 million spores are in the atmosphere daily or 1000 spores per cubic millimeter of air or the entire surface of the continent of Africa. That's massively interesting, no? He mentions spores are concentrated above forests where multiple mushrooms live and fewer spores are believed to be floating above non-forested geographical zones. It's fascinating to know that spores may contribute to the seeding of the clouds above them producing their own rain.
Mushrooms are 80% water. Ingenious. What do the airborne spores do for us ? We don't know the whole story yet. What we do know is how unique each spore shape is and how differently they fling their spores out into the air for survival. They are very entertaining.
Spore dispersal in the fungal kingdom is quite fascinating and in some cases unique to everything else on the planet! Mushrooms are split into two major groups. Basidiomycetes are the spore droppers and Ascomycetes are the spore shooters.
Basidiomycetes spores are produced externally on the end of specialized cells called basidia. Examples of basidiomycetes are gilled mushrooms, polypores, Stinkhorns, puffballs, birdnest fungi and jelly fungi.
Ascomycetes spores are shot out of an asci sac. The pores are little sacs full of spores that get ejected when the sac fills with condensation. Examples of Ascomycetes are cup fungi, morels, earth tongues, truffles, cordyceps, xylarias and daldinias.
Henry Reginald Buller, a British-Canadian mycologist out of Winnipeg calculated that mushrooms can release 30,000 spores per second and hundreds and billions in less than three days of their lifetime. We breathe up to 10 different spores with every breath. Spores are tiny so it is hard for the naked eye to see but if you hold a mushroom up to the sun you mày see the sparkling spores spewing out. Another method is to take a flashlight to a freshly foraged mushroom in the evening and readily view its sporulation but please tell the kids around a campfire that it’s fairy dust!
As you can imagine there are so many different ways to sporulate so I will only describe a small cross section of mushrooms found this past week that you may still find while foraging in the valley. Incidentally, all of them are edible mushrooms. Please see photos included and never eat anything you cannot positively identify.
Ravenel's Stinkhorn (Phallus ravenelii) oozes out a very smelly olive slime filled with spores. The slime attracts insects to eat it and deposit the spores elsewhere in their poop. Edible at the egg stage before it erupts into a mushroom.
Pear-Shaped Puffballs (Lycoperdon pyriforme) when mature open up a hole and wait for pressure from the rain to shoot out their spores. Puff balls are edible before the spores form. You must cut every one in half before eating to guarantee the centre is pure white and solid.
The Artist’s Conk (Ganoderma applanatum) is a polypore and uses gravity and air currents to help dump its spores, the brown coating found on many of these conks is actually spore deposits. This mushroom makes a healthful tea and is not a culinary edible. This conk can be sliced, dried and then chopped or ground to brew for tea.
Meadow Mushroom (Agaricus campestris) also uses gravity and air currents to release its spores. It's gills are actually pink in their early stage and change from pink to light brown to medium brown to black as millions of spores are moved outside the gills via the inherently unique Buller's drop mechanism. Gravity and air bring the spores to the ground. These mushrooms are a delicious edible.
Due to its uncooperative shape for sporing the Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus) quickly melts and dissolves into an inky goo within days to carry spores to the ground. Edible when young and pure white. Rub outer skin off and discard before frying. If you find them during the goo stage you can draw with its ink. Really, but don't eat it at this stage.
Apricot Jelly fungus (Guepinia helvelloides ) has internal sacs in every pore on its surface and each sac is full of spores. Condensation collects inside and when full the spores are released. Edible but tasteless. Adds and interesting texture and nutrients to soups and stews. Boil before eating.
I hope these examples peak your interest, especially your child's as someone in our future needs to scientifically find out what the heck those spores are really doing circulating in the atmosphere, if losing half of them since man hit the scene matters and in what way. Paul Stamets believes that "saving our forests is a matter of national security"! I get it now, Paul.