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The Shaggy Stalked Bolete, Heimioporus Betula

Editor’s Note:

Heimioporus betula
The shaggy stalked bolete, Heimioporus betula, is a distinctive and beautiful mushroom. Photo by Anna McHugh.

Although I love to focus on great edible mushrooms on this blog, for some time I have been planning to delve more into the aesthetically pleasing mushrooms that, for one reason or another, are not often to be found anywhere in my pantry or on my table. The shaggy stalked bolete, Heimioporus betula (also known as Austroboletus betula, as well as a host of older names, including Boletus betula, Boletellus betula, Boletus morganii, and Heimioporus alveolatus), is one such mushroom; although I’ve done a lot of culinary fancying-up of this mushroom in these past few years of hunting in North Carolina’s woodlands and wild spaces, I have never gotten them quite right and they usually remind me of munching on a pile of wet leaves.

My dislike for the flavor of the shaggy stalked bolete is not intended to condemn this mushroom to the useless pile by any means, because the shaggy stalked bolete is terrifically beautiful and shares habitat with chanterelles and black trumpets during the summer and early fall in the NC Piedmont, and I consider them to be a decent indicator species of both edible Cantharellus and Craterellus dainties.

Another blessing of the shaggy stalked bolete is the fact that it is a very good example of the trials and windy path of mushroom taxonomy because it has such a wide range of Latin names. Of course, when looking at the boletes as a whole, one is inclined to want to break it down into a few neat and comfortable genera, but this is simply a fool’s errand. The shaggy stalked bolete has some distinguishing features that has caused mycologists to remove it from the genus Boletus and thence from Boletellus, which is an astonishingly common occurrence and makes identifying boletes (even more) challenging than it already is.

So, let’s get right to it, here’s a portrait of the shaggy stalked bolete!

Yours In Fungal Fancy,

Mushroom Anna

Shaggy Stalked Bolete – Key Features

The shaggy stalked bolete, Heimioporus betula, appears in the summer and fall throughout the southern United States, and it does particularly well in and around the North Carolina Triangle. It’s not uncommon for me to find many specimens of this mushroom in a single afternoon, even though the mycelium of this species seems not to produce that many individual mushrooms at the same time (I usually find between one and four mushrooms that are presumably produced by the same mycelium and rarely more).

The name that is perhaps the most common in identification guides for the shaggy stalked bolete is Austroboletus betula, which means “southern bolete,” and this is a fitting name indeed, given that this striking and easily identified mushroom seems to do particularly well in southeastern United States and is an omnipresent species in the North Carolina Piedmont’s mixed wood forests.
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Damien Pack on Mushroom Cultivation

Editor’s Note:

I’ve been really enjoying digging through the audio archives of the radio documentary I did about mushroom people in 2011, Crazy About Mushroomsand I wanted to present another story that I got from one of my most intriguing interviewees, a mushroom cultivation expert and all-around fungus fanatic named Damien Pack. This post will serve as an introduction to a series about mushroom cultivation in the home and garden for those of you who are interested in inviting fungal friends to inhabit your property. Mushroom cultivation is great fun, although it can also be a little bit maddening at the same time, because the wily fungi rarely behave exactly how you want them to!

Blue Oyster mushrooms
Blue oysters are one of the prettiest cultivated mushrooms. Photo by Leslie Seaton. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

For those of you who are kind enough to visit this blog repeatedly (you poor souls!), you may have heard the name Damien Pack before, because Damien was the first person I ever met who knew the ins and outs of mushroom cultivation, mushroom hunting, and the tricky business of fungal taxonomy. Anyway, when I interviewed Damien, I got more than my fair share of mushroomy insights and stories about the trials and tribulations of mushroom cultivation in particular. Below is a portion of that interview, which is just a small taste of what Damien shared with me.

Yours in Fungal Fancy,

Mushroom Anna

Mushroom Cultivation – Discipline, Dedication, and Surrender to the Will of the ‘Shroom

Damien Pack served as the growing room manager at Fungi Perfecti for several years. For reference, Fungi Perfecti is Paul Stamets’ mushroom cultivation farm and research facility, and Stamets and company are instrumental players who explore new applications of mycology in bioremediation, medical research, and sustainable food production.

If you’ve never seen Stamets’ TED talk about how mushrooms can save the world, drop everything and watch it right now. It’ll surely bring the importance of mushroom cultivation and mycological research into stark relief for you, as it did for me years ago.

Stamets mycoboom
One of Paul Stamets’ projects, a “mycoboom” of mycelium designed to trap and digest oil spills and other water contaminants. Photo by Anna McHugh.

Damien went to work at Fungi Perfecti after falling in love with fungi, and over the course of his time there he brought literally hundreds of different mushroom species to fruit. After he left the company, Damien continued to pursue his passion, teaching mushroom cultivation workshops and serving as a booster for mycology wherever he went. Damien’s understanding of fungal organisms within the context of mushroom cultivation is, from a technical perspective, quite impressive, but as with many other mycological experts, he also frames mushroom cultivation as a philosophical endeavor that involves discipline and a willingness to let the fungal organism take the lead.

So with no further ado, here’s Damien’s perspective on the challenges and surprises you’re in for if you decide to pursue mushroom cultivation!

So, yeah, when I first started playing with mushroom cultivation myself, I did create some very lovely worm food…but also discovered a balance between intervention (coaxing my mycelium to grow) and just letting fungi do its own thing.
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Becoming Friends With Mushrooms – An Interview With Ryane Snow

Editor’s Note:

Dr. Ryane Snow was one of the coolest mycophiles I’ve ever had the opportunity to meet. He was a radiant soul whose presence was made up of equal parts warmth and intuitive intellect. I want to share a recording of a cool story that he told me at SOMA Camp (the queen-mother of all mushroom camps) in 2011, because it sums up my experience with learning about mushrooms: once you get to know your fungi, they become good friends.

Dr. Ryane Snow
Dr. Ryane Snow on a Chinese myco-excursion. Photo by Dan Long.

Albert Einstein was once asked “What is the BIG question?” in his later years, and he simply replied, “Is the universe friendly?” Over the course of time that I have been pursuing mushrooms, I have come to the conclusion that yes, this is indeed the most important question to contemplate, and in my personal opinion it’s pretty obvious that the universe is a friendly place. Dr. Ryane Snow was one of the people who helped me come to that conclusion, even though our paths crossed but a few times.

My passion for mushrooms and mycology really kicked off in 2008 while living in the Pacific Northwest. My first golden chanterelle hunt was one of the most exciting things I had done in years, and it kindled a spark of curiosity and adventure that’s sustained me ever since.  However, I did not truly understand the breadth and depth of the mushroom-loving community until 2010-2011, when I received a grant to produce a radio documentary called Crazy About Mushrooms, which is an hour-long radio special about mushrooms and the people who love them. If you want to listen to the documentary, you can stream it here.

The hardest part of this project was editing all the material I that collected. I gathered interviews much like I gather mushrooms – with a fever that borders on greed, and so it was challenging to create a single hour-long piece out of the hundreds of hours of interviews and field recordings I made.

However, now that I am dedicating more and more time to this blog, I feel like it’s appropriate to dust off some of the cooler interviews that I sadly did not fit within the short confines of a single hour of public radio. I figure it’s best to begin with one of the most dynamic and interesting people I met during my travels to “meet the mushroom folk,” Dr. Ryane Snow.

Yours In Fungal Fancy,

Mushroom Anna

Dr. Ryane Snow: Organic Chemist, Chinese Herbalist, Surfer, Mycophilosopher

Amanita gemmata
One of Dr. Ryane Snow’s photographs of the beautiful Amanita gemmata, the gemmed Amanita. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Dr. Ryane Snow was a much beloved organic chemist, practitioner of Chinese medicine, and extremely good mushroom identifier and foray leader who passed away in 2012. Ryane’s love affair with mushrooms and botany came about during a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford in 1970. At the time, Ryane was researching the chemistry of various natural products, particularly those with medicinal properties. As a part of this, Ryane began taking excursions into California’s wild places to collect plants and mushrooms, and this kicked off a love affair with fungi that would sustain Ryane’s interest for many years.

Dr. Ryane Snow served the mycophile community in countless ways; he was a member of the Taxonomy and Toxicology Committees for the Mycological Society of San Francisco, which is the largest and one of the most active citizen mycologist groups in the nation. In addition, he wrote articles for Mycena magazine, outlining the chemistry of different mushroom species, and in later years he started to lead mushroom walks for community groups, alternative high school students, and many others. In addition, Ryane was a close friend and colleague of many of mycology’s brightest stars, from Paul Stamets to David Arora and Dr. Andrew Weil.

In later years, Ryane moved to Mendocino, which is pretty much a mushroomer’s Valhalla. He practiced Chinese medicine and taught Qi Gong, surfing, and wild mushroom identification while living on the north coast of California and was an active and lively member of the mycophile community, and his cheerful visage was a common sight at California’s fungus fairs, mushroom camps, and mycological society meetings for many years.

Coprinus comatus
Coprinus comatus, the shaggy mane or lawyer’s wig mushroom, was beloved by Ryane Snow. Public Domain image.

As for my interaction with Dr. Ryane Snow, I met him at SOMA Camp in 2011, and at once I knew he was something special. I sat in on a lecture that he did about the history of medicinal mushrooms in human society, and I was struck by his humble charisma and warmth right off the bat. When it came time to mingle, I introduced myself to Ryane and asked if I could conduct an interview with him, to which he graciously agreed.

Later in the evening, we sat on a bench in the cool California night (SOMA Camp is in January each year), and he regaled me with all kinds of stories about his background, including his work as the executive director of the PharmChem Foundation, which is a nonprofit group that studies and educates the public about street drugs. Once we’d delved into his story and he’d sketched the broad details of his life, the conversation turned philosophical. You see, one thing I always asked people during my interviews was whether or not they dreamed about mushrooms, because it’s a common experience for those who are smitten with fungi. He nodded enthusiastically and told me bluntly, “It’s not just that. The mushrooms speak to me.”

Intrigued, I pressed him to tell me what he meant by that. Here is the story he told me.


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Pleurotus Dryinus, the Veiled Oyster Mushroom

Editor’s Note:

In my effort to catalog some of our more common North Carolina and eastern U.S. mushrooms, I have done little to touch on the varied species in the genus Pleurotus, which are generally called “oyster mushrooms.” Oyster mushrooms are one of the world’s most popular edible mushrooms and they are insanely easy to cultivate at home.

The veiled oyster mushroom, Pleurotus dryinus, often has darker coloration on the lower portion of the stem, even once the veil has burst and worn away. Photo by Jean Pol GRANDMONT. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.
The veiled oyster mushroom, Pleurotus dryinus, often has darker coloration on the lower portion of the stem, even once the veil has burst and worn away. Photo by Jean Pol GRANDMONT. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

In the future, I will post some basic ideas on how to grow these delicious, healthy, and fast-growing mushrooms in your home or garden. For now, however, I want to take a peek at two species of Pleurotus that grow wild in North Carolina and are common edibles this time of year: Pleurotus dryinus, commonly called the veiled oyster mushroom, and Pleurotus levis, which is a closely related species that is nearly challenging to tell apart from the veiled oyster mushroom.

If you’re like me, this time of year means a lot of chanterelle, black trumpet, lobster, hedgehog, and chicken of the woods hunting, and during your travels you’re very likely to stumble across some oyster mushrooms as well. In the summer, the veiled oyster mushroom grows like gangbusters all around the NC Piedmont and Research Triangle area, so Pleurotus dryinus and Pleurotus levis are good species to add to your watch list!

Yours In Fungal Fancy,

Mushroom Anna

The Veiled Oyster Mushroom, Pleurotus dryinus

The edible veiled oyster mushroom, Pleurotus dryinus, is a common sight in the oak and beech forests of the North Carolina Piedmont. It fruits through the spring, summer, and early fall, and often grows in clusters of several individuals on downed logs, stumps, and dying trees. It is a member of the Pleurotus genus, which includes many different species of edible oyster mushrooms. The word Pleurotus means “side ear,” which is an apt description, because these mushrooms tend to grow laterally off the side of dead and decomposing wood, and many of them are somewhat ear-shaped (although kidney- or oyster-shaped more accurately describes it in most instances).

As a wood decomposing saprophyte, Pleurotus dryinus is not a terrestrial mushroom, and I find it both on recently felled wood and logs and stumps in a relatively advanced state of decomposition. It does quite well in the summer in North Carolina, although I’ve found it as early as mid-March in the North Carolina Piedmont. The veiled oyster mushroom is a relatively large species, often getting to 4-5 inches in cap diameter when fully grown.

Pleurotus dryinus baby
A cute little button of Pleurotus dryinus with the partial veil still covering portions of the gills. Photo by Jason Hollinger. Licensed under Creative Commons Attrribution 2.0 generic.

Pleurotus dryinus is edible, although when it gets large it can become a bit on the tough side. The flavor is much like other oyster mushrooms (by which I mean mild and pleasant), although its fuzzy cap and occasionally prickly-furry stem and cap can be a little like gnawing on a woolen sock, so whenever I gather a particularly hairy specimen of the veiled oyster mushroom, I carefully skin it before slicing it up for cooking.

The veiled oyster mushroom is a bit of an enigma to mushroom fanatics because even though it’s an oyster mushroom, it doesn’t have a lot of the characteristics that make a Pleurotus mushroom…well…a Pleurotus mushroom. To start with, Pleurotus dryinus usually has a central stem that can get quite long, whereas most oyster mushrooms have an off-center stem that is short and stumpy, and some oyster mushrooms lack a stem altogether (in most instances, oyster mushrooms have a stem of some sort, but it’s often buried inside the wood from which the mushroom fruits, and so it’s not always obvious to the casual observer).

Also, Pleurotus dryinus at times does not fruit from the side of a tree or stump but sprouts right from the top of its woody food source. This is a nice feature when it occurs because I can often spot them at quite a difference as they hold their mushroomy heads high off felled trees.
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Amanita Jacksonii, the Eastern Caesar’s Amanita

Editor’s Note:

Correction: In the first publication of this blog, I mistakenly used a photograph of Amanita frostiana by Eric Smith and attributed it to a different Mushroom Observer user; I sincerely apologize for this error and have added the photo I initially intended to use, which is by Dave Wasilewski.

The main wild mushroom season is upon us at last in North Carolina, and it couldn’t have come too soon; after a long and cold winter and fickle spring with a short morel mushroom window, I was sorely in need of some mushroom-finding therapy.

Amanita jacksonii
Young specimens of Amanita jacksonii emerging from their universal veils. Photo by hríb. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

This post is dedicated to one of the more popular edible mushrooms in the eastern United States, Amanita jacksonii, which is a North American member of the Caesar’s Amanita group. Amanita jacksonii is one of those mushrooms that people really seem to like eating, and although I am very familiar with it, I must confess that I haven’t ever eaten it myself. As I explained in my post on the Amanita genus generally, I am cautious about eating any wild mushroom that I don’t know inside out, and this is even more the case when it comes to the delightfully beautiful Amanitas that are so common in the forests and fields of the North Carolina Piedmont.

That said, I wanted to get some basic identification info out there, as well as a few notes on potential lookalike species for Amanita jacksonii, as well as a bit of information about the place that Amanita jacksonii occupies in the mushroom taxonomy universe. One way or the other, maybe this will be helpful to you in your own mycophilic journey.

Yours In Fungal Fancy,

Mushroom Anna

Amanita jacksonii, A Jewel-Red Amanita With a Die-Hard Following

“I love Amanita jacksonii. It tastes like fancy cheese.”

“Oh, Amanita jacksonii? Yeah that’s one of my favorites. I cannot really describe the flavor, but I salivate anytime someone mentions them.”

“Hey, is this Amanita jacksonii? I think it’s Amanita jacksonii. Yeah, I am pretty sure, look at how red it is…what’s that you’re saying? I don’t get it; what are striations? What is a volva?”

These three statements sort of sum up my experience with Amanita jacksonii; either people love them and know them as a wonderful edible mushroom, or they’re desperate to give them a try.

This is not to denigrate those who want to add Amanita jacksonii to their “yup, done ate it and loved it” list, but it’s quite important to know the basic mycology lingo for the different parts of Amanita mushrooms before diving into a meal of mushrooms that you think are Amanita jacksonsii, because without a few foundational vocabulary words, identification field guides won’t offer you the clarity you need to be sure that your mushroom truly is Amanita jacksonii.

Amanita jacksonii stem base
These sac-like volvas are the key feature of Amanita jacksonii. Also note the orange fibers on the stem in the right hand specimen. Photo by Amanita 77. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Hint: if you don’t know what striations are, or you think that a volva is simply a dirty-sounding anatomy word, you’re probably better off sticking with chanterelles, hedgehogs, black trumpets, lion’s mane, chicken of the woods, and other easily identified edible wild mushrooms for the time being…and there is no shame in that; these are my staple wild mushrooms, and I’ve been hunting wild fungi for years and feel very comfortable eating foraged foods.

Amanita jacksonii is a widely gathered and popular edible mushroom that has a significant range in the eastern regions of the United States, Mexico, and Canada. It is possible that in the future we will discover that there are subspecies within the designation Amanita jacksonii (or even additional species that have been erroneously called Amanita jacksonii), but for now, it’s considered a rather easily identified and beloved mushroom with an extensive geographical range.

As with all Amanita mushrooms, Amanita jacksonii must be identified with care, but as luck would have it, its striking identification features make it pretty distinctive, and if you have a solid mushroom identification foundation, I think you’re very unlikely to make a mistake with Amanita jacksonii.

However, given that there are some very poisonous Amanitas out there, as well as many others that have never been taste-tested (after all, who wants to be the guy who tries that newly discovered Amanita for the first time?), it’s important to be cautious about gathering and eating Amanita jacksonii. 

Amanita jacksonii – Key Identification Features

Amanita jacksonii is a hardwood-loving species of Amanita that grows in the summer and early fall in North Carolina, particularly in oak groves, beech stands, and mixed woods. It’s been reported to occur from Quebec to the Mexican state of Hidalgo, and it’s but one mushroom in the Caesarea section of the Amanita genus. For reference, Amanita and other genera of mushrooms are often broken into “sections” that share genetic and morphological features (morphological simply means how the mushroom looks to the casual observer without the help of a microscope), and Amanita jacksonii is in the same section as the classic European Caesar’s AmanitaAmanita caesaria. 

Amanita jacksonii is typically bright red or vermillion in color, although the center or edges of the cap can fade to orange and yellow as the mushroom ages, and when it first emerges from its protective universal veil (which looks like an egg), it can be chestnut-colored or more orange in color.
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Mushrooms Are Sexy Part II – Fungi Are Everywhere!

Editor’s Note:

This is the second in a two-part series about the history of mycology and the basics of fungal reproduction. If you’re interested in learning more about how sexy mushrooms can be, take a look at the last post. Although this post sort of rambles through mushroom biology, it has enough foundational material to give you a sense of the ins and outs of mushroom hunting. Hope you enjoy it!

Boletus eastwoodiae
The delightfully blue-staining Boletus eastwoodiae. Few mushrooms amaze me more than red-pored, fast blue staining boletes. Photo by M. Struzak. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Yours In Fungal Fancy,

Mushroom Anna

Mushrooms are Sexy, Part Deux

Before the advent of microscopy, our understanding of fungal reproduction was limited at best. In his Natural Philosophy, Aristotle uneasily concluded that mushrooms were plants, despite the fact that they did not have noticeable seed and erupted rapidly in the wake of storms rather than honoring a predetermined and observable flowering season. Most Greeks agreed that Aristotle was onto something, but they also revered the more enchanting and magical aspects of mushrooms, and some ethnobotanists believe that the Greeks used magic mushrooms or the hallucinogenic fungus ergot in the Eleusinian Mysteries, to power visions at the Oracle of Delphi, and to fuel the ecstatic Dionysian sex parties that were all the rage among individuals that occupied the upper crust of classical Greek society. For more on this, see this blog post from several weeks ago.

Aristotle and his contemporaries called mushrooms “sons of the gods” and “seed of the gods” because of their mysterious nature, and because of their affinity for mighty Zeus’s thunderstorms. In addition, the Greeks dubbed mushrooms cryptogams because fungal reproduction was so puzzling. In Greek, the word cryptogam breaks into two root words: crypto, which means “hidden,” and gammein, which means “to marry.”

For many hundreds of years, the idea that mushrooms were basically weird plants persisted, and many people still think of them as more closely akin to plants than other life forms, even though our understanding of fungal biology has grown enough that most mushroom lovers are aware that fungi are more like animals than plants. Our basic needs are the same (food, water, oxygen), and there is even a superkingdom that unites Animalia with Fungi as a way of demonstrating our common evolutionary roots.

In 1969, microbiologist Robert Whittaker proposed that fungi be given their own kingdom within the Linnean classification system. Naturalist Carl Linneaus created the field of taxonomy in 1735, and it established the rank-based system that scientists use to classify organisms down to genus and species.

Delfos, Greece
The supposed location of the Oracle at Delphi in Greece. Photo by Donpositivo. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Prior to Whittaker’s realignment, fungi had been bounced around botanical taxonomy like unwanted stepchildren; first they were assigned to the plant kingdom, then they were lumped in with the protists, a grab-bag of organisms that do not produce specialized tissues. Whittaker clarified the distinction between fungi and other organisms based on fungal feeding habits.

Like animals, fungi cannot produce their own food, and must obtain nutrition from the surrounding habitat. Some species decompose dead plant material using powerful digestive enzymes that are secreted into the mycelium’s habitat. Other fungi team up with plants, sharing water and nutrition with a symbiotic partner. Still other species are parasitic, attacking and stealing resources from other organisms. To complicate matters, many fungi are not strictly decomposers, mutualists, or parasites. Fungi have a tricky way of changing behavior and lifestyle to suit the environmental conditions.

The oyster mushroom, for instance, is normally described as a wood-decomposing fungus. However, the oyster has a sinister side that manifests when the fungus has the opportunity to commit murder. Oyster mushroom mycelium secretes a specialized enzyme that paralyzes nematodes, microscopic bugs that live in soil and wood. Once it immobilizes its prey, the fungus devours the stunned (and, as it happens, protein-rich) nematodes. Thus, the oyster mushroom transforms itself from an innocuous decomposer momentarily into a hungry carnivore.

To Mushroom or Not to Mushroom: Which Fungi Make Mushrooms?

Most fungi do not reproduce using mushrooms. In fact, only about 10% of the fungal kingdom does so. Molds, yeasts and other species that reproduce asexually are called the fungi imperfecti (also known as the Deuteromycota). Compared to mushroom-making species, these fungi imperfecti are dominant in almost every habitat on earth. Furthermore, many of these fungi are potent decomposers of complex hydrocarbons and other large, durable molecules. This is why some of the most exciting applications of fungi as bioremediation agents focus on fungi imperfecti, including several yeasts and white rotting molds that, when left unchecked, can cause all kinds of problems for human and environmental health.

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Mushrooms Are Sexy Part I – A Spore to Shroom View of Fungal Bio

Editor’s Note:

Well, I’ve managed to go more than a week without posting to this blog, and the reason is simple but a little reprehensible; you see, it’s officially chanterelle mushroom season in North Carolina, and all the time I normally dedicate to writing about fungi has been sucked up by forest-time and quietly walking around looking for these dainty, delicious golden beauties. Well, not all; as you will soon see, I’ve cooked up a post that covers some of the fundamental understandings of mycology and mushroom-ology, and it got so long that I had to split into two separate entries. The second will follow once I have a minute to clean it up and post it. As any mushroom fanatic will tell you, coming to understand how and when fungi reproduce is extremely helpful for those who wish to find wild mushrooms or cultivate them at home.

This is a broad exploration of the sex lives of mushrooms, coupled with observations about the importance of fungi to different habitats. We’ll also look at a little bit of history of mushroom taxonomy, an explanation of the difference between mold and mushrooms, and a few other random things besides. I hope you enjoy it! In the meantime, happy hunting!

Yours In Fungal Fancy,

Mushroom Anna

 

A Spore-To-Shroom View of Fungal Biology: The Life and Times of Mushroom Mycelium

Paul Stamets
Paul Stamets, owner and founder of Fungi Perfecti, lifting a mycoboom made of straw and oyster mushroom mycelium into the waters of the Puget Sound. Photo by Anna McHugh.

“I think it’s the ultimate hubris that the human species thinks we are the only intelligent organisms on this planet. I think that is extremely provincial from a biological point of view.

Let’s go back in time. We share more common ancestry with fungi than we do with any other kingdom. In fact, in the Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology a few years ago, a new super kingdom has been erected called Opisthokonta (that) joins Animalia and Fungi together into one kingdom because of our common ancestry. We exhale carbon dioxide, so do fungi. We inhale oxygen, so do fungi.

So we have a common ancestor, and these (fungal) networks that have evolved are resilient, and they are intelligent. What I mean by that is that one side of a network can have an experience with an antagonist, with a bacterium or a new food source, and if successful, the mycelium the goes through a recombination of DNA.

The mycelial strands grow into that new food source, and there is a “memory” that then is back- channeled through the network. The network is becoming educated genetically. So, these networks are extremely adaptive to catastrophia. They evolve very, very quickly, and through natural selection these networks have emerged in a manner that allows them to cope with change.

I think one measure of intelligence is not only the ability to adapt to change, but to predict and pre-position oneself for changes in the environment. I think fungi do that in a very exquisite way.”

~Transcript exerpt from my interview with Paul Stamets, mycologist and founder of Fungi Perfecti

Mushrooms are inherently sexual. Truffles contain aromatic oils that are very closely related to human pheromones, which might be the reason that chefs and foodies are so turned on by them. Truffles tease pigs as well, and for eons truffle hunters raised sows to hunt for these subterranean lumps of precious fungus. A lady pig is highly susceptible to the scent of truffle, and when she smells it at the base of an oak or filbert tree it gets her hot and bothered.

Black truffle
This 250-gram black truffle sold for 105 Euros at auction. Photo by David Monniaux. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 France.

For whatever reason, the stink of truffle has something of the husky hog in its aroma, and a sow can root out a sex-scented truffle buried several inches deep in the soil. Much to her dismay, Pig’s human counterpart traditionally breaks off the tryst at this point with a stick and snags the prize for himself.

Human enthusiasm for truffles certainly rivals our lady Pig; in 2005 a casino owner named Stanley Ho paid $330,000 for a single truffle at the astonishing price of $100,000 per pound.

A mushroom that belongs to the genus Dictyophora or Phallus (depending on who you talk to) is as controversial as it is sexy. Distinctly penis-shaped and housed inside an interlocking network of tissue that falls around it like a crocheted cloak, one tropical strain of Dictyophora indusiata invites comments both lewd and laudatory. Dictyophora mushrooms produce a pungent odor that mimics the scent of animal feces and rotting meat.
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Quetzalcoatl and His Mushrooms – Mushrooms in Mesoamerica

Editor’s Note:

As promised, here is an article that explores mushroom use in classical Mesoamerican cultures; it is not exhaustive, because it largely revolves around how the Aztecs used mushrooms in religious practice and for divination. This article will focus a good bit on the deity Quetzalcoatl, a heroic god who was much revered by the Aztecs, Maya, Toltecs, and other indigenous Americans.

Quetzalcoatl
An image of Quetzalcoatl from the Codex Magliabechiano, 16th century. Public Domain photograph.

One of the most common stories that schoolchildren are taught about the Aztecs is that they thought the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés was in fact Quetzalcoatl, and this incident of mistaken identity opened up the door to much misery and suffering to the indigenous Mesoamericans at the hands of the invaders. Whether or not this tale is true is debatable, and many scholars believe that Cortés cooked up this narrative to please his royal masters, which was then reinforced by other European observers at the time. Nonetheless, I have included it because, well, it’s pretty interesting irrespective of whether or not Cortés invented the story.

In case you’re just stumbling upon this blog for the first time, I encourage you to take a look at the other posts I have written about the role of mushrooms in human history; I have posted a number of articles on this subject, including one about mushroom use 19,000 years ago in the Upper Paleolithic period, ancient Greece and Egypt, Rome, and ancient mycophiles in other parts of the world.

If your interest is more toward learning which mushrooms to hunt for in the forests of North America, there is plenty of past content on this blog that might satisfy you. Rest assured, this is not some Erowid-inspired blog that only deals in discussions of psychoactive fungi. Although I find the historical use of these organisms religiously to be a fascinating topic, my interest in mushrooms is purely culinary, aesthetic, and citizen-scientific. However, this bit of history is just too weird and cool to pass up.

Yours In Fungal Fancy,

Mushroom Anna

Quetzalcoatl – A Divine Mycophile

Quetzalcoatl
A bust of Quetzalcoatl in Teotihuacán. Photo by Jaime de la Fuente. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Spain.

“You have graciously come on earth, you have graciously approached your water, your high place of Mexico, you have come down to your mat, your throne, which I have briefly kept for you, I who used to keep it for you. You have graciously arrived, you have known pain, you have known weariness, now come on earth, take your rest, enter into your palace, rest your limbs; may our lords come on earth.”

When the Franciscan scholar Bernardino de Sahagún penned these words in the latter half of the 1700s, he attributed them to the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II, whose humble rhetoric ostensibly welcomed Hernán Cortés to the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan in 1519. Also, this passage was interpreted as an invitation to Cortés to take command of the city. The arrival of Cortés in Mesoamerica spelled disaster for the Aztecs, an ancient civilization that would eventually succumb to the Catholic invaders, driving their rich culture and religious practices underground. According to Sahagún’s Florentine Codex and Cortés’ own letters to Charles V, the Aztec king Moctezuma II presumed that the Spaniard was a divine being, the Plumed Serpent Quetzalcoatl.
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Edible Mushrooms in the NC Triangle – Good Spots to Hunt

Editor’s Note:

Edible mushrooms are abundant in the North Carolina Piedmont, and it’s about time to get out in the woods in earnest in celebration of the oncoming season! The chanterelles have arrived (albeit in small numbers and most of my patches are still silent) and chicken of the woods has been out in force in and around the North Carolina Piedmont. That means that the good times are officially about to roll. Of course, some thunderstorms would be most welcome (hint hint rain gods), but the influx of hot weather has given our fungal friends the go-ahead to start fruiting, which is terrific! Edible mushrooms of all sorts grow throughout the summer and fall in North Carolina, and even though I am not too keen on the hot weather, I can always find the motivation to spare a few buckets of sweat in order to fill my basket!

Boletus frostii
Boletus frostii, or the apple bolete, is a red-pored bolete that Arora and Lincoff list as edible, though I have never tried it. Too pretty. Photo by Noah Siegel. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Hunting for edible mushrooms is a great pastime, but it’s an often-misunderstood hobby, so I usually keep my activities relatively on the down-low and make sure that I visit locations where mushrooming is allowed. If you’re like me and dislike getting funny looks from passersby who think that hunting for edible mushrooms is tantamount to poaching wildlife, you may want to consider taking a look at this silly post from several months ago that outlines a few ways to evade detection while you’re out in the woods questing after edible mushrooms. However, your best bet is to find places in and around the North Carolina Piedmont where hunting for edible mushrooms is allowed (or at the very least, is not strictly prohibited…more on this in a minute).

I will note, however, that I am not saying that these places will ALWAYS be fair game for hunting edible mushrooms, and you should certainly check the regulations for the various mushroom hunting spots you plan to visit. Better safe than sorry and all that! I am simply writing from the perspective of an avid amateur who likes to collect small quantities of edible mushrooms for my own dinner table (again, more on this in a minute). When in doubt, check the regulations out!

If you want to get a sense of the different edible mushrooms that grow in and around Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and surrounding North Carolina communities, I encourage you to look into the archives of this blog; I have written both birds-eye view and in-depth articles about our NC fungal friends, including a top-10 most wanted list of North Carolina edible mushrooms. If you’re just starting out, I suggest getting to know a few species really well, rather than trying to learn every last possibly edible mushroom in our forests, because to be honest, that would take a looooong time (we’ve got over 200 species of edible mushrooms in this state alone, and several thousand distinct mushroom species overall).

Yours In Fungal Fancy,

Mushroom Anna

Hunting for Edible Mushrooms in NC – the Basics

I will just go ahead and say it right off the bat: North Carolina does not very clear or straightforward foraging rules. In my old homes in California, Oregon, and Washington, edible mushrooms are an important part of the economy and cultural scene, and so most land use and management agencies have clear and particular rules that apply to the gathering of edible mushrooms. North Carolina, however, does not have the same degree of specificity when it comes to mushroom hunting, so in most cases you’re going to find that the rules do not explicitly mention mushroom foraging at all. Instead, edible mushrooms are usually under the same umbrella as trees and plants when it comes to foraging prohibitions around the NC Triangle. This is patently absurd from my point of view, but until us mycophiles launch a successful letter-writing campaign to the state park service, it’s unlikely to change.

One thing I will say that applies to every place I have ever gone hunting for edible mushrooms: if you are gathering small quantities for personal use, you’re much less likely to get into trouble than if you’ve decided to launch a foraging business and are Hoovering up every gourmet mushroom in sight. On the west coast, there are many national forests that tolerate and allow mushroom hunting (a lot of times you have to get a free permit), but the Forest Service has established strict limits on how many edible mushrooms you are allowed to gather without paying for a commercial foraging license.
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Mycophiles – A Worldwide Confederacy of Awesome

Editor’s Note:

This post is the latest article in an ongoing series I am writing about the history of mycophiles (mushroom-lovers) around the globe. Although not as targeted as my past posts on the Red Lady of el Miron, the Greeks, and the Romans, this post gives a sort of scatter-shot perspective on different ancient cultures that loved mushrooms in one way or another. In these next two weeks, look out for companion posts that delve into Chinese, Japanese, and Mesoamerican mycophiles. So sit back, grab a cup of mushroom tea, and take a look at some of the amazingly diverse cultures that love them some fungus!

Yours In Fungal Fancy,

Mushroom Anna

What is a Mycophile?

Boletus bicolor
Boletus bicolor is a well-known and tasty edible mushroom. Photo by Dmitry Brant. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

“What is it about the mushrooms? Well, to me they’re just so interesting. They’re kind of disgusting to some degree. I grew up loving movies like Alien and John Carpenter’s Thing, but I didn’t want to LIVE in that world, and now I do . . . And you can’t really go back afterwards.

“It’s fascinating to encounter the unknowm, and it’s a great challenge in life to understand one’s own aesthetics. These things are so disgusting and ugly looking, but they’re just fascinating materially and behaviorally. And so they are now the most beautiful things in the world to me. For something that’s completely disgusting and horrific to become beautiful, that’s part of what it is to be human. That’s a remarkable leap we can make, and do make, all the time.

“This stuff is REALLY amazing. I think I can objectively say that it’s amazing. To understand mushrooms is to understand how weird life actually is.”

~Phil Ross, Sculptor, Mycologist, Ardent Mycophile

Author’s Note on Terms:

Three words are ubiquitous in the mushroom-loving community. They are listed below with contextual examples, just in case you’re not already a mushroom nut.

Mycophile: A fungus lover.

Contextual Example: “Patrick made butter poached chanterelles for dinner, then we looked at some budding yeast under his microscope. That guy’s a total mycophile.”

Mycocentric: A viewpoint that places extreme weight on fungal doings and matters.

Contextual Example: “Dan’s girlfriends always break up with him during mushroom season because he’s too mycocentric. Mushroom hunting is all he ever thinks about.”

Mycophobe: Someone who fears fungi. Such persons often think mushrooms are icky and believe that an inordinate number of wild mushrooms are poisonous. This mycophobia often does not cross-apply to popular fungus-based products like antibiotics, beer, and bread, but rather is reserved for fungi that produce fruiting bodies.

Contextual Example: “Josh uses Lysol spray every two minutes, and he shudders every time he passes the portobellos in the produce section. Last week he told me that mushroom hunting is super dangerous and advised me to stop doing it. What a mycophobe!”

Mycophiles Are Everywhere!

Evil mushrooms!
Mycophiles don’t associate mushrooms with scary snakes. Painting by Joseph Hauber. Public Domain photograph.

The first mushroom fanatic is shrouded in the mists of time, an unknowable person of antiquity that was never captured in the written records of our species. However, it is clear that before there were literary societies, political assassinations, and moist sanitizing towelettes, mushrooms shaped the human psyche. Today, many people give them little thought—they are simply another denizen of the produce section or an annoying blemish in the front yard. However, mushrooms have much to offer us—not just as dinnertime delights or salubrious medicine but also as a lens through which we can view the unknown.

In times past, mushrooms were main characters in the myths that people used to understand the universe. The mysterious and sudden appearance of mushrooms, coupled with their lurid colors and shapes, excited the curiosity of the ancients. However, mushrooms also aroused suspicion and fear. That one sort can kill a man, another can send him into a transcendent mental state, and a third makes a delicious soup was profoundly curious and frightening at the same time, and grappling with this paradox occupied a lot of mental real estate in the course of human history.

To catalog every society that treasures fungi would be a fool’s errand. Rather, I will turn my attention to the general arc of mushroom fever in “hot spots” around the globe that embraced mushrooms as fundamental to the cultural mythos.
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