Fall is mushroom and slug time in the forests of the Pacific Northwest and most anywhere it gets rainy and cools down. The cool fall rain makes the mycelia, the underground part of a fungus, grow fruiting bodies which we know as mushrooms. Mycelia, although hidden most of the time, are an important part of forest soil. It is often the first thing to grow in soil, and helps stop erosion until plants arrive. The mushrooms we see are the part of the fungus that will give of spores and help the fungus reproduce. All fungus feed on decaying matter and are essential decomposers in all ecosystems. Let’s see some of the interesting fungus we saw on our forest walk today!
Caution: Some mushrooms are deadly! Seriously, unless you are a mushroom expert, be very careful with mushrooms. Never eat a mushroom unless an expert tells you they are safe. If you handle them, wash your hands.
There are so many kinds of mushrooms in the forests up here in the Pacific Northwest. Many people come here to collect mushrooms, which you have to have a permit for depending on where you are. This day of mushrooms and slugs was in and around Mount Rainier National Park and Federation Forest, about an hour and a half from Seattle.
Mushrooms are just the common name for one kind of fungus. Usually when we think of mushrooms, we think of a typical umbrella-looking gilled-mushroom. There are actually over 13,000 species of just gilled-mushrooms. In fact, there are over 5 million kinds of fungus!!! Gilled-mushrooms have gills, also called teeth or ribs, under their cap. They also have a stalk. The Burke Museum at the University of Washington has a great collection of gilled-mushrooms and lots of information about them and other fungi online.
Another interesting group of fungus are polypores. They are also called shelf fungus or bracket fungus since they often grow horizontally off of trees or dead wood like little shelves. This outside part, not the mycleia inside the decaying plant, is called a conk. Some polypores are soft and jelly-like, others are very hard and woody. Many of them are eaten or used in traditional medicines. In China, the polypore lingzhi (灵芝) is often used in herbal teas and is very expensive.
Have you ever heard of lichens? They are a mix of two different organisms, algae and fungus. The lichen in the photo below is called candy lichen. It is famous for growing over the moss that grows on rotting logs. You can see the moss on the left, and then the pieces of moss that have been overgrown by the lichen. The little pinkish “candy dots” are called apothecium, the mushroom-like part of the lichen.
We didn’t see any slugs eating the candy lichen, but we did see slugs munching on other mushrooms and fungus. This herd of Arion slugs on the right was really enjoying these slimy mushrooms. Mushrooms are also an important food for many other creatures. They are a vital part of forests, and all other ecosystems. Make sure to get out this fall, explore the woods, and look for some interesting mushrooms, lichens, slugs, or other amazing wildlife!
Learn more: Here are some online resources and books that can help you learn more about mushrooms.