On Saturday Dahlem hosted Professor Steve Albee-Scott from Jackson College for an afternoon of fungi lessons. Fabulous Fungi 101 was for amateur and novice mushroom fanciers, a chance to learn some basic information about fungi, where and how tot find them, and how to begin learning ID. There are millions of species of fungi in the world, most of which we (the scientific community) suspect we have yet to discover.
We were off to a good start even before the class started when one of the participants brought in this fabulous cake that she’d made (it was her birthday):
After a quick indoor introduction to fungi physiology and how to hunt for fungi, acquire them, and properly take samples (taking notes and making paper envelopes for specimens), our class of 23 headed out into the chilly autumn afternoon to see if there were any fungi about. Due to the recent cool weather, Steve didn’t think we would find too much, but we did okay.
This black specimen was tricky to get – it was as hard as any tree and well-attached to a root underground. We later keyed it out to be dead man’s fingers (Xylaria polymorpha), which is one of my favorite fungi names.
We thought the first of these three was a birch polypore, but I’m not 100% sure that is right. The underside did have small teeth, which I don’t believe the birch polypore has. In the middle we have a puffball, possibly Scleroderma areolatum. The one on the right we never did get identified. Steve thought at first it was angel wings, but it wasn’t.
Here is one I recognized from my time in NY: white elfin saddle, Helvella crispa. Widespread, but not common, this is another fungus that is fairly easy to identify.
And, of course, good old Fomes fomentarius, the tinder conk. This was a young one, so some folks had a difficult time agreeing that this is what it was…didn’t quite match the pictures in the book (that is the problem with photo ID books).
We had one non-adult in the group – and he was quite into the program, thanks to a mom who takes him out and teaches him nature stuff! He was also quite good with his smart phone and had GPS’d and taken photos of the locations of all the fungi his group found.
Steve didn’t want to give out the answers for the ID of each mushroom/fungi we found – like many a good educator, he wanted the class to try to identify them themselves, using the various keys and books that he provided. Keying out things is challenging for many folks, and mushrooms are not easily done, especially when the keys use terminology that is not part of the lexicon of your average citizen. So, some of the class left after only a short while, but some stuck it out until nearly 4:30!
Even so, many specimens remained unidentified.
This purple specimen was quite lovely, and when cut across the gills, it oozed a white latex – proof positive that it was a Lactarius of some kind.
One of the ways you can identify a fungus is by determining the color of its spores – at the very least this will help narrow down your choices. This is done by turning the fungus gill- (or pore-) side down on paper and covering it with a cup or bowl for a few hours. We did not have the time to do this, so Steve told us what color spores some of the specimens had, just to give folks a boost in their ID.
Other fungi you have to look at under a microscope to get an ID.
It was a productive afternoon, with lessons learned by all. We found a lot more fungi than we had expected, and some were new even to the instructor.
And after one has labored over fungi ID for a couple hours, one needs to celebrate by having cake! Donna’s mushroom-clad log was delicious and a huge hit – thanks, Donna!
If you’d like to learn about local fungi, keep your eyes open and watch our newsletter. We will have Steve out again next year, possibly in the spring, and most likely in August, to collect and identify more fungi from Dahlem’s property. (We can’t guarantee there will be cake, though.)