by Brady Raymond
Cold frosty nights usually spells the end for most mushroomers, but the observant are still rewarded with a plethora of fungal finds. 2017 may not go down as “the year” at least in our neck of the woods but I have valued each moment spent outdoors with my family and have enjoyed very much what nature offered up to us this year. Although the inevitable cold wet months of winter have yet to set in, the general gloom and sulk of it all are lessened by thoughts of spring and of course, Morels.
The cold weather doesn’t have to be the end of your season, there are plenty of rotten, moldy slimy mushroom carcasses to be found under wet leaves and amongst saturated duff. Good luck identifying any of them. There are also conks and other persistent woody fungal fruitbodies, scattered through the forest and parks. Thankfully, cold weather is relative, and often times what folks around here complain about, folks in other parts would laugh at as being considered cold. Truth is, winters around the Puget Sound are fairly mild and as long as it gets above freezing during the day, I think it’s worth keeping your eyes open, ready to spot any frosty mushrooms that make themselves apparent.
Many if not the majority of mushrooms found this time of year will be saprotrophs, thus found on woodchips and in lawns or on other dead organic material, their mycelium slowly but surely breaks down these substances releasing the nutrients, otherwise trapped within. Mychorrizal fungi are most likely dormant this time of year as their plant partners are dormant as well. This fact can be reassuring to the beginner as it narrows down your options when trying to ID specimens until you realize just how many little brown, palish beige, gray to tan mushrooms inhabit our region.
As stated in an article from last winter aptly titled “Winter Mushrooms” this is a great time for the beginner to learn some basics and prepare yourself for the spring field trips. This time of the year is less distracting, as the diversity of mushrooms dwindles it forces you to focus more on the mushrooms you have and less on just finding edibles.
I managed to find a number of species while doing some yard work and on a walk with my dog the other day. I collected a few specimens and decided to try my hand at describing one of them. Of the nine or so different mushrooms I found I chose the four pictured at the top of this article to try and figure out. I grabbed a couple of ID books as well as my “Easy Key To Common Gilled Mushrooms” by Kit Scates. Kit Scates’ key is great because the second page is full of gilled mushroom descriptors. I wrote down on a piece of paper the categories of Cap, Gills, and Stipe I looked over the whole mushroom (four in total) and used Kit’s key to describe my specimens. I also measured both the stipe and the cap. It looked like this:
–Cap– 2-3cm across, slightly umbonate, undulating/wavy, smooth and silky with a streaked look, fairly translucent when held to a light, dark gray in color.
–Gills– Sinuate yet the cap breaking easily from stipe, subdistant spacing with one specimen being intervenose (veins between gills, seen in top photo).
–Stipe– 2-4cm long, 0.4cm wide, mostly equal in width slightly wider at the base, same color as cap although a bit lighter at the top, small amount white mycelium at the base.
–Habitat– My yard, lawn near a fence the base of which is disturbed by mole tunneling and weedeating, some moss, mushrooms scattered over a small area.
I had a feeling it may be an Entoloma but I was still waiting for the spore print to be sure, well, as sure as I could be. I was also waiting to see whether or not this specimen was hygrophanous.
The Next Day
I checked the spore prints early the next morning, I expected there to be a deep salmon colored spore deposit upon which I would say, “Ah ha, it is an Entoloma, Entoloma sericeum no doubt.” There was a problem though, what I saw looked more brown to me than a deep salmon. The more I looked at it the more pinkish hues I began to see and after looking up the mushroom in a variety of books, online and using the “Matchmaker” mushroom software I was convinced that what I had was more less an Entoloma or Nolanea or whatever they’re calling it these days.
I found a few more specimens around the neighborhood that I was fairly certain were the same species but neither yielded a spore print, I suspect they are older specimens. They had a similar growth habit, were found in a lawn and had many of the same features. Both specimens were indeed hygrophanous as I suspected they would be. In the end, it didn’t really matter if my mushrooms were ID’d correctly or not, as there was no intention of consuming them, but it does help you to sharpen your senses, looking them over carefully and describing them the best you can.
The mushrooms pictured above and below were two other specimens I found while out. The top photo was found in my backyard under a birch tree. As I collected the specimen I noted that the base was attached to some broken sticks. As I flipped it over to take a look at the gills I was met by the sight of virtually no gills attaching to the stem. They had been there at one time but at this point they were gone, appearing to have been eaten by a slug I imagine. Even though we probably can’t figure this specimen out with the limited data we have, why don’t you the reader give it a good look over and see what morphological features you can identify and describe it the best you can?
Try your hand at the specimen below. What characteristics can you identify? This one was found in woodchips (which are still attached to the base of the specimen in the photo) and there were a few mushrooms scattered around in a small area. The spore print was a rusty brown, which you can see on what’s left of the veil. The Gills were attached and dare I say ever so slightly decurrent. This specimen was hygrophanous. Any Ideas? I’m not sure about the top photo but I believe the bottom photo is a Galerina, which is a deadly mushroom and one to learn early on.
If you are new to mushrooming do your best this offseason to start learning the mushroom lingo. These are descriptive tools that allow folks to communicate about mushrooms the world over as many bare their roots in Latin and Greek. Although there are newer books on the market I recommend “Mushrooms Demystified” by David Arora as one of your first purchases. One of the main reasons is that it is more than just an identification book, it is an understanding book. It has a Latin and Greek dictionary, it uses dichotomous keys and is actually a pleasure to read. I have never met David but his humor is apparent and his style gets you excited to learn more.
I would also recommend Kit Scates’ “Easy Key To Common gilled Mushrooms.” It has been recently updated and folds a couple of times to fit neatly inside “Mushrooms Demystified.” These two publications along with “Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest” by Trudell and Ammirati and “Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast” by Siegel and Schwarz make up the bulk of my identification reading. I have a handful of other books as well, which can be great to reference different photos but the above titles are in my opinion the best for our region. And don’t forget about “Matchmaker Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest” a free downloadable program to help you identify mushrooms. I don’t use this software as much as I should but every time I do I am impressed.
Stay sharp this winter, you may be surprised at what you find in the cold dark months to come.