A Pep Talk for Beginners
by Brady Raymond
February at first thought doesn’t usually bring to mind mushrooms here in the PNW, but it is a great time to start honing your skills for the months to come and the bounty that is sure to follow (hopefully). The winter months do yield some mushrooms to find and although usually more scarce this time of year, it can be less distracting for someone trying to learn mushrooms. During prime season it is tempting to trek one more bend on the trail, or cross the next ridge in hopes of finding that forty pound Sprassis or basketful of Boletes but if you’re new to mushrooming why not get a head start on learning the basics about mushrooms now.
One of the first things a newcomer should do is obtain a reputable book on the subject. If you are unfamiliar where to start PSMS sells books at our monthly meetings and at our annual spring and fall shows. It is recommended to get a book that encompasses your area and I would recommend having a couple books if funds allow. Here is a link to a previous post I wrote talking about books a little more; Where to Start, Tips and Tools for Learning Mushrooms.
Once you have a book take the time to learn some mushroom terminology. Start with the parts of a mushroom, usually books will have a diagram as well as a thorough glossary. You will start to build your mushroom lexicon quickly if you make it a point to peruse your book daily, even if only for a few minutes.
Now it’s time to start looking, and believe me there are mushrooms growing as we speak. I like to look while walking my dog and so far I’ve spotted a few species this year that aren’t polypores (although the Schizophyllum pictured below is often treated as such in a few of the more popular books).
When you find a few specimens note where you found them and any trees or other habitat details that you notice, like if they were found in wood chips or grass, etc… Bring them home and look them over with a keen eye. Use the terminology you’ve learned to describe your specimen in as much detail as possible before you open your book.
Don’t let yourself get too frustrated if you can’t figure out what you’ve found, many species are rather difficult to key out even for the experts. This time of year is more about building your skills than anything and learning to see detail that before you were unable to describe even if you noticed certain morphological features.
I am not a mushroom expert, nor do I pretend to be, or expect myself to be one anytime in the near future. Each year however, my experiences in the woods or local park and a familiarity with my books, I get a little better. But the truth is, you don’t have to know every mushroom you find to enjoy the hunt and appreciate their beauty and diversity. Learning mushrooms is more than just learning names, it is making connections and seeing things you didn’t notice before, it is knowing how to look and where to find the the answers.
If mushrooms do interest you, stick with it. It takes time to develop any skill and learning mushrooms is no exception.