Friday, October 1, 2010

Fungus Among Us

Do you think we’re nuts for doing this?” I asked my husband as we slowly wound our way uphill through the forest. A short time ago we’d left a little town in British Columbia to find the Cedar Grove Trail, where a rare group of ancient old-growth cedars grew. Rare, that is, for that far inland. Living in Washington, we’d seen ancient cedars before, of course, but these were billed as being spectacular. Besides, we were a bit road-weary and ready for a good hike. The trail was not supposed to be very far; I read the directions carefully – several kilometers out on a paved road, then so many more on an unpaved forest service road, look for certain signs along the way, and so on…
We did find the correct roads and luckily had taken the truck on this trip, as the forest service road was definitely unimproved - really just a narrow track scraped out of the thick woods, full of large rocks, holes and drainage channels. At the final sign (still pointing upward) the road continued to narrow until it was merely a trail itself. Then, the promised wide spot to turn around, and we’d arrived.
Completely alone in this strange territory, I thought we might be nuts. But no, the experience was totally worth it. The sunlight finally breaking through to cast its filtered light among those giants and flicker through the thick understory of ferns and Devil’s Club was icing on the cake. Walking the trail through the grove, my eyes fell upon group after group of large snow-white mushrooms. We had never seen this kind before, but remembered seeing several “mushroom station” signs at area homes, so picking must be popular there. We settled for photographs.

When it comes to mushrooms and other fungi, one needs to be aware. "At ease disease, there's a fungus among us." is an old saying and it is true that some fungi need to be avoided. There are lethal mushrooms as well as toxic molds that have caused serious health problems for those living in houses containing them. Many other fungi are highly beneficial and nutritious – it’s importance to know the difference.
Because fungi contain no chlorophyll, they are unable to make their own food as other plants do. Living off of other (usually dead) organic things, they need moisture but little, if any, light. During the fall, with increased moisture and decreased daylight hours, our local woods and meadows teem with fungi. Most of the ones I see have been nibbled by mice, squirrels, and other creatures that seem to know which are safe to eat. Humans who also know can harvest tasty Morels, Chanterelles, and other treasures. We are not fortunate enough to know which are safe, so pick none, with the exception of one year when Lou taught us how to identify Boletus. This type of mushroom grows all over our back pasture area so we did not have to look far. I cooked them up but cannot say we were particularly fond of them, so have not eaten them since.


I do love the taste of most mushrooms, but especially enjoy studying and photographing the fungi found growing in our cool, damp corner of the world. Wandering the woods, keep your eyes on the ground to discover a myriad of exotic and bizarre shapes, colors, and sizes. Some, like the minute Birds’ Nest fungus, look like they belong in a child’s fairytale book; others resemble giant ogres. Don’t forget to look on rotting logs and then raise your eyes – beautiful giant orange shelf fungi are sometimes seen high on dead or dying trees. There’s a whole other world out there, so take note – they’re definitely among us.

He bestows rain
on the earth;
he sends water
upon the countryside.
The lowly
he sets on high,
and those who mourn
are lifted to safety.
Job 5:10-11


  1. What a neat adventure! That must have been wonderful to visit there! I'm glad it turned out to be worth it. :-) We love spotting and photographing mushrooms! Your post has inspired me to want to go for a walk and keep a special eye out for mushrooms, hopefully today! :-)