There have been many times when I stooped during my meanders through the woods to look at fungi, often not considering that I was only seeing the fruiting body of a large underground network of “hyphae” – small root-like structures which interact with many species in woodlands. Most of the time I only contemplate the color, shape, or size of the mushroom, and move on without ever being able to identify the species. I believe that experience is the same for many others. However, as I stood on the deck at the Folk School in Fairbanks, Alaska and watched a band of kids ranging from age 7-12 roam through the woods with mycologist Christin Anderson, I was excited to learn of the species they brought in!
I was astounded by the diversity of mushrooms brought forth – in a short time they had collected over 10 genus, and many more species. Functionally, the collection of mushrooms ranged from parasitic, to decomposing; one species even grew on decomposing mushrooms! We observed the variety of color and size of each by touching and looking as Christin explained that it is not possible to absorb the toxin of any mushroom through the skin, although most people believe that you can. It was certainly news to my ears! On top of that, I didn’t know the hallucinogenic compounds in mushrooms are the not same ones that can kill you; poisons and hallucinogens are separate things.
I think mushroom identification is the hardest part of being a mycologist, and is simply overwhelming for those of who are not mycologists. However, with Christin at the helm of at least identifying each of the mushrooms to genus, I was excited to look up information each. Here’s just a little of what I learned about the diversity of the world of mushrooms. As a result of my research, I am in awe of the functionality that mushrooms play in Alaskan ecosystems.
- Amanita muscaria
- is a particularly poisonous mushroom, and through history has been utilized as a hallucinogenic (Michelot, D., & Melendez-Howell, L. M. 2003)
- It is just one type of the many amanitas (fly agarics) which are often colorful and extremely beautiful. Check it out
- Mycena family
- The mycena family are decomposers (saphrophytic) and decay logs and organic matter
- Some are capable of decomposing lignin – without them we would have a lot of leaf litter and birch bark built up. Those two tree parts have a lot of lignin.
- These mushrooms output “latex” or milk if cut or injured – or in effect lactate
- A “universally popular wild mushroom“, they are a favorite edible
- You may be familiar with or have eaten the king bolete
- These distinctive mushrooms often grow as ledges from trees and either decompose dead trees, or parasitize live ones
- Some are edible (ever heard of hen of the woods? It’s delicious!)
- Some polypores can be used to start or carry fire. Check out this YouTube video! Or this YouTube video
- these mushrooms are the largest genus in the world
- Easily identifiable by a thin veil o f webs cover the stalk called a cortina
- a color and diverse group which can be difficult to identify to species
- Lepista nuda
- This species of mushrooms sends out hyphae (the roots of mushrooms) into bacteria colonies and kills them to absorb their nutrients!
- Likely edible
- Cup fungus
- A general, common name for several genera of fungi named for their cup-like shape
- Club fungus
- Many fungus we see are club fungus
- Rather than being named for it shape, they are named that because spores are produced on microscopic, club-like structures called basidia
Below are a images of the mushrooms collected. If you are receiving this post via email, you may have to visit the post to see them, since there are too many to be sent in the email.
Literature and websites:
Michelot, D., & Melendez-Howell, L. M. (2003). Amanita muscaria: chemistry, biology, toxicology, and ethnomycology. Mycological research, 107(02), 131-146.