It Was a Great Mushroom Walk with Dr. Rick Van de Poll

The Mushroom Gods were good to the group who attended the mushroom walk on August 29th. There had been some rain the previous week and then some more the day before. While Rick Van de Poll was worried we might not find mushrooms because it had been so dry, he/we found enough to keep everyone entertained and educated.

Before the walk, Rick presented a “Chicken of the Woods” mushroom that can be huge and is delicious (if you prepare it properly). All were invited to take some of this mushroom home with them.

After a brief introduction to mushrooms and a discussion of good books to identify mushrooms, off we went onto the Heath Brook Trail System. We hadn’t gone 100 yards before we stopped for a look at a mushroom. It was growing on a log and this is where many mushrooms grow as the rotting logs retain moisture even in dry times that the mushrooms need.

The trail took us across a small stream that was “wet” although not running but in that area, there was enough moisture to encourage mushrooms to show up on the surface. The mushrooms that we see are the “fruiting bodies” of fungus which produce the spoors that then make more mushrooms. Most of the mushroom is underground and picking mushrooms really doesn’t harm the the fungus in the same way that picking blueberries doesn’t hurt the blueberry bush.

One of the mushrooms that was found was very small and, you might say “cute”.

Another small mushroom, I believe a Bolle, was poking up through the leaf litter

Periodically, Rick would get down on his hands and knees to pick a mushroom and then talk about it. We all learned that the mycelium, the part of the mushroom that is underground and provides energy to produce the fruits, is very important for forests. The mycelium breaks down material that the roots of trees can then use to grow. While sometimes the fungus will kill a tree, they ultimately are helpful to trees in general and we wouldn’t have our forests if it were not for fungus.

Below is a puffball. It is often called a PPP. Many puff ball fungus are good to eat but the PPP stands for “purple poisonous puffball” and is deadly poisonous and the inside is often purple in color. It pays to know what is not good to eat. Rick says that you can eat all mushrooms but the problem is that some might kill you after you eat them! Make sure you know what you are doing if you collect them.

Below is a “tinder” mushroom and it is valuable for people lost in the woods as, if it is dry, will help to start a fire. The glowing coal that is produced will stay glowing for hours. He said that the “ice man” found in a glacier in the Alps who had lived around 3000 BC and fell into a crevasse, had some of this mushroom in his pocket. It was wrapped in leaves so it wouldn’t burn him but the would then have fire to use at his next camp (which he didn’t get to……).

Rick talked of the fact that some mushrooms grow on deciduous trees while others on conifers. Some like really rotten wood while others will grow on growing trees. The world of mushrooms is really quite amazing.

The last mushrooms that we saw on the walk are shown below. The are luminous and glow in the dark. So, if you are out in the woods at night and there is something glowing, it might just be one of these.