Dispatches From Hawai’i: Mushrooming in Hawai’i

This is the first in a 4-part series on the fungi of Hawai’i from a Pacific Northwest perspective.  This article provides an introduction to fungi in Hawai’i.  The following articles discuss edibles and fungi with psychedelic properties, mycology in Hawai’i, and the connection between Hawai’i and the Pacific Northwest.

In the years leading up to my move to Hawai’i Island in 2014, my interest in fungi was growing, and I knew I would continue my hobby after I moved.  I wondered about the mushroom culture in Hawai’i: when and where to forage, what the edibles were, and who was studying mycology.

I asked members in PSMS and attendees of the 2014 NAMA gathering in Eatonville their thoughts.  Despite nearly uniform replies—there are few good edibles, it’s hard to find anything at all, there’s not much going on—I was not deterred.  Many areas receive plenty of precipitation, therefore, there must be plenty of fungi and people interested in them, I reasoned.

Unfortunately, many of their assertions were correct and I went out many times shortly after I arrived and the rain had been falling only to be disappointed.  But, while Hawai’i may have few fleshy fruit bodies to see at all times, local information on fungi may be hard to track down, and the mycological community decidedly smaller than in the Pacific Northwest, it is not necessarily a fungal wasteland.  Here are a few of my observations on mushrooming in Hawai’i and suggestions if you visit:

  1. Do not plan a vacation in Hawai’i to look for fungi!  I would rarely even plan a hike in Hawai’i to look for fungi, with a few specific exceptions.  The Hawaiian Islands are hot, breezes are common, and the mushrooms are often delicate (Mycena, Marasmius, etc.). This leads to short life spans for fruit bodies before they keel over in the heat or become completely desiccated.
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This Pluteus species was found by the beach in Kaiwaihae following an uncommon rain event.  The area receives less than 10 inches of rain annually, the average daily temperature is above 80 degrees Fahrenheit every month of the year, and windy days are normal.  Mushrooms only appear in these areas infrequently, and when they do they don’t last long!

2.) The best habitat to find fungi is in wet, windward, non-native forests including non-native ectomycorrhizal forests of Eucalyptus or Pine.

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Fruiting with Slash Pine (Pinus elliottii) along the Hamakua Coast, Suillus salmonicolor has a distinctive partial veil.

3.) If you are out for a hike, don’t be afraid to get down on your hands and knees.  There are lots of tiny mushrooms waiting to be discovered.  Often I will be examining a plant or tree more closely, only to notice a tiny fungus nearby.  Additionally, you will usually have more luck looking on downed wood or debris than on the actual ground.

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A small mycenoid fungus found in a native windward forest.

4.) Check out Mushrooms of Hawai’i for a good overview of Hawaiian fungi and introduction to different vegetation zones.  You can also try Mushroomobserver.org or the “Mycologists of Hawaii” Facebook group to see what has been fruiting recently.

Despite the bleak picture I am painting, there are some very interesting fungi in Hawai’i that you have a decent chance at seeing when you visit:

Aseroe rubra 

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This stinkhorn is very common under Eucalyptus trees. It also occurs in smaller numbers in native rainforest environments.

Favolaschia calocera

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This beautiful (but tiny) fungus can be found in native and alien wet to mesic forests. It usually lines small twigs and branches with dozens of fruit bodies. It is reportedly a recent introduction to Hawai’i.Podaxis sp.

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A close relative of the shaggy mane, Coprinus comatus, this Podaxis sp. (probably P. postillaris) fruits in abundance after precipitation is received in arid areas on leeward coasts.

Jeff Stallman is a super picky PSMS member since 2009 and former Board Member. He has been exploring the fungi of Hawai’i since moving to the big island in 2014, and will be sharing his experiences with us. His series will be published the second Sunday of each month.