by Brady Raymond
In the hustle and bustle of urban living an often unnoticed world exits on the ground amongst the duff and high on branch and tree. As other forms of life are winding down for the season many species of fungi begin to stir. Dormant through the hot dry months of summer, the fall rains bring forth a variety of mushrooms in many forms, shapes and colors. It is easy for the new mushroom hunter to get discouraged when hearing fantastic tails of bucket loads of edibles found on faraway mountain slopes, especially if they lack the means to get to these mushroom wonderlands. Yet opportunity abounds in our urban environment for someone who wants to hone their skill in photography, identification and just simply finding these things.
In Seattle the obvious place to look would be any of the cities many parks, large or small there is plenty to be found. Remember though, in the city of Seattle it is illegal to pick mushrooms or otherwise remove them from the parks; this goes for plants, rocks and pretty much anything. I wonder though, how hard they would come down on you with shoes full of sand from a day at Golden Gardens tromping around on the beach, or a twig caught in your hair from a hike through the trails. Aside from city parks there are lots of places to look for mushrooms like people’s yards (with permission of course), plantings in parking lots and pretty much anywhere else you could think of that may harbor a fungal find. There are many micro-environments in the city to explore, and many different species in those environment to be found. Keep your eyes peeled, a great photo could literally be just around the corner.
You don’t need fancy gear to take interesting shots, although a decent digital camera and tripod goes a long way in giving you the control and stability you need in sometimes less than ideal situations. With that said I have seen some excellent images taken from phone cameras and if that’s all you have use it, I’m sure you will get some good shots in no time. When you’ve found spots that yield mushrooms but the lighting is lackluster check back regularly as many species will flush a few times per season and usually if the conditions are good for one species it is good for a number of them. The next day, week or month may sprout new mushrooms and if your lucky the right lighting for a great shot. Shooting mushrooms in town is also a good way to learn your equipment in a more controlled fashion. Take multiple shots using different aperture settings and angles. Learn how to use your tripod so well you could do it blindfolded.
Identification of mushrooms is another challenge and urban mushrooms are a great place to start as many are rather common and can easily be found in most field guides for your region. Getting a few easy ones under your belt is always good, it builds confidence that can be easily stifled when learning to use the dichotomous keys provided in many field guides. It is advised that you have all mushrooms ID’d by an expert before consuming if you are a beginner.
It is also important to be conscious of where you picked a particular mushroom if consumption is intended. Mushrooms have an uncanny knack for accumulating toxins from the environment in which they grow. The urban environment is unfortunately full of toxins, from the dust of vehicle brake pads and exhaust to the heavy metals in the soil from bygone industry.
Even though an edible species may not present itself in an ideal location to consume, it could still very likely be a worthwhile photograph or even a specimen to just simply ID for future reference. Having a good representation of a particular specimen with all the stages of development is very helpful in keying it out with your field guide. Getting to genus is a good start in my opinion, don’t over work a specimen, species names at the moment are in flux and any name you give it will probably be wrong in the long run. If you’re someone who enjoys certainty in things, mushrooming is not for you.
Finding them can be a challenge but once you’re tuned into them they seem to pop from almost anywhere you cast a gaze. Don’t forget to look up in the trees once in a while too, there are a number of species that could be growing overhead. It can be a bit tricky to photograph a cluster of oyster mushrooms 15ft. up, but if you look around there may be some at a more accessible level.
On your next trip to the park or stroll through your neighborhood, look around and if conditions are right mushrooms should be found. Take note of the surrounding environment, the trees and plants, the duff and soil make up. These clues start to become second nature and soon you’ll know the way of the mushroom.