by Brady Raymond
Fungal diversity in the PNW is lower in the spring than in the fall, yet interesting mushrooms are to be found for those willing to look. To be fair, our regions mycofloral diversity is only lacking in the fruiting bodies, the mycelium of all the fall players still lurks below our feet and imbedded deep within dead wood, building and storing energy for their inevitable fall flush.
I found these cup fungi not too far from my house, and watched them grow over the course of a week or so. I finally got a chance to photograph and look them over a bit. It’s tough to gauge scale from a picture without any frame of reference but the largest cups in these photographs were around four inches across, fairly large for a cup fungi and worth noting, they were also growing in wood chips with no trees close by except stumps, from where I assume the wood chips came.
I was fairly certain it was some sort of Peziza, which one it was would hopefully make itself evident after thumbing through a few field guides. When I got home I pulled four books from the shelf to aide in trying to identify what I had, Mushrooms Demystified, Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest, Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast and Ascomycete Fungi of North America.
I grabbed Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast first and what do you know there was a photograph that looked like my specimen. I read further and the description seemed to match, at least macroscopically to Peziza arvernensis. Normally, before I even crack open a book I try to describe the mushroom to the best of my ability, this allows me to at least partially key it out and forces me to really examine my specimen. But in this case I felt confident I could find a match just looking at pictures and then reading the descriptions. This however would have been difficult using Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest which mentions the mushroom with a short description but provides no picture or key. It is equally as difficult if using Mushrooms Demystified which has keys but only a black and white photograph and a different name, Peziza sylvestris. I only knew of this synonym after searching the internet for P. arvernensis because I couldn’t find it in Mushrooms Demystified and surely Aurora knew of this mushroom by an older name, right? Right.
So, Aurora wrote the mushroom bible, it has great descriptions but its names are out of date. Trudell & Ammirati wrote the PNW specific guide, but there is not a photograph. Siegel & Schwarz are the new kids on the block but their guide says Redwood coast right in the title, can it be trusted for the PNW? I know what I’ll do, I will check with the authority on ascomycete fungi, Beug, Bessette & Bessette’s Ascomycete Fungi of North America. Inside this volume is the synonym I was looking for, I should of checked here first. Wait, it says “There are many terrestrial brown Peziza species, as well as other somewhat similar brown cup fungi. Differentiating them requires microscopic study.” Damn it!
So, I think I found some type of Peziza, they were kind of big, pale brownish and growing amongst old wood chips.
Here we go again. I’ve encountered this mushroom before, most notably in Northacres Park in Seattle where I’ve seen it growing amongst the leaf litter covering wood chips. Mushrooms Demystified calls it Coprinus plicatilis but we know that taxonomists can’t leave anything alone for to long, so I looked through the other more recent books. Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest has the name Parasola plicatilis attached to it where as Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast have the name Parasola lactea, which seems to prefer wood chips and/or disturbed areas, although in the comments it describes Parasola plicatilis as a slightly smaller version that seems to be restricted to lawns. My specimen was definitely growing in a lawn, and was smaller than the ones I have photographed in the past (pictured below).
So the moral of the story is; $150 worth of books doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll know what you’ve found. But, you probably will know more than you did before you opened them and started reading. There really is no one book to have when trying to figure mushrooms out and dropping that kind of dough isn’t easy for the average joe who wants to learn more about mushrooms. Thankfully, PSMS members have access to an extensive library of mushroom related books and the four books in this article are represented there among hundreds of others. There is also a multitude of online resources, one may want to be a little more discerning as to the credibility of authors online (including this one) especially when concerning the edibility of a given mushroom.
Open to the public is the PSMS Hildegard Hendrickson ID Clinic. This identification clinic runs through both the spring and fall mushroom seasons and is held at the Center for Urban Horticulture, for more info click on the link. This is an excellent way to get help from qualified folks in regard to mushroom identification and one of the best ways to learn is through experience.