11 Questions Mushroom Hunters Hear ALL the Time – And A Few Suggested Answers

Editor’s Note:

Hideous gomphidius!
Gomphidius glutinosus, AKA hideous gomphidius, is one of the most disgustingly cool mushrooms on the planet. Photo by Bernd Haynold. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Well, I’ve gone and done it again and started several different series of blog posts and haven’t really tied up all my loose ends. There’s the ongoing series about the storied past of mycophiles around the globe, the series where I outline different mushrooms to genus, the series of audio interviews with interesting mushroom folk I’ve meet, and of course the ever-growing (and largely as of yet unpublished) series on mushroom cultivation.

Mea maxima culpa! I’ve got no excuse for this scatter-shot approach to this blog, save to say that I am struck by all sorts of mycological fancies and cannot keep up with my boundless enthusiasm for starting new things.

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there, because today my mind is wandering across the series of things I’ve heard as a mushroom hunter these past few years…some of them from concerned friends, some from fellow mushroom fanatics, and some from the bewildered people who I cross paths with who cannot fathom why it is that I find fungi to be so interesting. So I figured I’d write down some of the common things you’ve no doubt heard if you’ve been a mushroom hunter for any length of time. Cheers!

Yours In Fungal Fancy,

Mushroom Anna

Questions Mushroom Hunters Hear ALL the Time

    1. Have you ever poisoned yourself with mushrooms? Now, I don’t hold this one against people; after all, most U.S. mushroom hunters are living in rather mycophobic communities, and it seems that lots of people assume that MOST mushrooms are poisonous. I delight in telling people about all the times I haven’t poisoned myself with mushrooms when I am asked this question. They usually wander away after an hour or two.
    2. What on earth are you doing going hiking on a day like THIS? Yes, that’s right, mushroom hunters like to hike around in the rain. It’s good for the soul. When I get this question, I like to point out that when I’m in the proper woods, I don’t need an umbrella because the trees do a good job sheltering me from the rain, and anything that falls through the canopy can easily be stopped short by my wide-brimmed mushroom hunting hat.
    3. Is this a shantrell? (shows you a fuzzy picture that could an image of a cat, a horse, or perhaps just a large hunk of snot). Well first of all, it’s CHANTERELLE, not Shantrell. Shantrell sounds like a lovely name for a child enrolled in Montesorri preschool, and the picture you’ve just shared with me may in fact BE of such a child. Anyway, yeah, take a clear picture, including a shot that includes the bottom of the mushroom. Without a photo of the fertile surface, I surely cannot tell you what that mushroom’s identity is.

      Cantharellus californicus
      A beautiful specimen of Cantharellus californicus (one of the many species of chanterelle). Photo by Alan Rockefeller. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported. If we all took mushroom photos like Alan Rockefeller does, the world would be a happier and less confusing place.
    4. So I’ve got this brown mushroom in my yard. Can I eat it? Ummm…no. I am not a malicious person and I do not dislike getting mycological questions. In fact, I love it because it gives me a chance to share my passion with someone else. That is why I will usually ask someone about 50,0000 follow-up questions when they hit me with the old “brown mushroom in the yard” chestnut. Then I tell them not to eat it anyway, but not because I am a jerk. I just don’t identify mushrooms that I cannot see.
    5. Why are you interested in mushrooms? That seems like a weird hobby. What’s wrong with NASCAR or running marathons? Why is anyone interested in anything, really? I am interested in mushrooms because…well…they’re fascinating and weird. They’re a reminder of impermanence. They’re beautiful, except on those occasions when they’re monstrous (think hideous gomphidius) or cute (think Pseudohydnum gelatinosum)! Besides, NASCAR looks really dull and I am entirely too lazy to run marathons. I’m a mushroom hunter because it gives me childlike joy to wander in the woods picking up stuff my parents warned me to avoid. I also like food! Who doesn’t like food?! In fact, let me turn this one on its head: why AREN’T you interested in mushrooms?
    6. Where are your mushroom spots? Hmm. Well, let me think about it. Yep, I definitely find mushrooms in the woods. Usually near trees. Sometimes they’re in grassy spots. You know where there are some woods, yes? Terrific! You’re halfway there. Honestly, I do often share tips on where to go mushroom hunting (evidence HERE), especially when people aren’t sure where it’s legal to collect mushrooms, but if I tell you a specific mushroom spot…yeah I won’t lie, it’s nowhere near the top of my list. Sorry, maybe I am a jerk after all.
    7. Hey man, do you know where I can get magic mushrooms? Wow, yeah, don’t ask this question of every mushroom hunter you meet. I remember one time I organized a mushroom foray with my local Meetup group, and I got a phone call from a man about an hour later asking me about my “magic mushroom business.” I laughed at him and told him I was organizing a walk to find medicinal and gourmet mushrooms, and he hung up on me. Now, I don’t know, but I assume he was either really stupid or a cop, or maybe a little of both Column A and Column B. Either way, most self-proclaimed mushroom hunters are not going to help you with this. I might engage you in a conversation about theories that the Greeks used magic mushrooms at the Eleusinian Mysteries or the Oracle at Delphi, or I might chat with you about the research of R. Gordon Wasson and John Allegro, but I am not going to hook you up with trippy mushrooms. I’m far more likely to give you advice on what kind of butter tastes best for poaching chanterelles.

      Paxillus involutus
      Paxillus involutus, AKA the poison pax or brown rim-roll, is a mushroom I will never eat. Or anything that looks like it. Photo by Joansfr. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.
    8. Are you ever afraid you’ll end up dead because of poisonous mushrooms? No, I don’t. Honestly, where do people get the idea that mushroom hunters just go around gobbling up potentially dangerous mushrooms? Of course, I have sadly encountered and read about people who did just that, but it’s rare that those people were dedicated mushroom hunters. More often than not, it’s someone who failed to find someone to answer question #7 above and decided to go it alone, or someone who heard that wild mushrooms are tasty and didn’t do (any) of their homework. This is tragic, but I don’t lose sleep over my own mushroom-munching ways, because I am extremely careful and only eat gourmet species that I feel really confident about…and even then, I keep a couple specimens and only eat a little bit the first time I try something new. That doesn’t mean I am foolhardy and believe I will never EVER make a mushroom identification mistake, but I am pretty darn conservative about what goes in my mouth…and as for “ending up dead,”…yeah no. If I ever feel sick after eating wild mushrooms, I won’t wait to seek medical help, and you can bet your butt I’ll bring some of the mushrooms in question to the ER with me. Anyway, I worry about this concern no more than those who commute to work in cars worry about dying in car crashes on the Interstate – it’s not that it couldn’t EVER happen, but I practice defensive mushroom hunting and that’s good enough for me.
    9. Could you identify this mushroom for me? Yes, I will do my best, and thanks for bringing it to me! I love it when people bring me mushrooms, send me pictures, and generally bombard me with questions about the things they find. It’s best if you bring the mushroom in person, because that way I have a much better chance of giving you a good answer.
    10. Should I be worried about this mushroom in my yard/garden/basement? Well, when it comes to the mushroom in your basement, it really depends. My stepmother once sent me a snapshot of Peziza domiciliana that was growing in the basement on concrete, and I did, at that time, tell her not to worry too much about it besides removing it if it was offending her. Of course, if you’ve got oyster mushrooms growing OUT OF YOUR PORCH (like my older brother does), then yes, it’s probably time to consult a professional because you’ve got a fungus eating your home. However, the normal answer to this question is simple: NO. The mushroom is not hurting anything, and in fact it may well be growing in partnership with your garden plants and is doing a fine job helping your green friends survive and thrive. This question comes up frequently with this little yellow dude called Leucocoprinus birnbaumiiwhich grows in garden pots and is so brilliantly colored that the mycologically disinclined almost always notice them and get upset. Well kiddo, the news is good in this case: that little yellow mushroom is just digesting some of your mulch and won’t harm anything, and if it bothers you just don’t look at your plant for a day or two and it’ll be gone as suddenly as it appeared.

      Leucocoprinus birnbaumii
      Leucocoprinus birnbaumii, just chilling out and not bothering anything. Photo by Dan Molter. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.
    11. Is picking mushrooms going to make mushrooms go extinct someday? What? No. Just no. Think of the mycelium as similar to an apple tree, and the mushroom is an apple. Of course, you want to harvest apples carefully to keep that activity from harming the tree, but taking the apple in and of itself isn’t going to cause the tree to die, and once you take that apple off someplace, the seeds might get to land in a new spot and make a new sapling sprout where there was no tree before. Now, this is not to say that over-harvesting of ANY forest product is a good idea, but when it comes to the danger posed to mycelial organisms, deforestation and habitat destruction are of far greater concern and potential harm than mushroom hunters taking a few fungal fruits now and then…and besides, when we move mushrooms around, we spread spores far and wide!

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