Mushrooms play an important role by breaking down plant and animal material which is
then reused by other plants and animals. Because mushrooms can’t produce their own
energy to grow, they always live in reciprocal relationship with other organisms:
As mushrooms get energy from plants, they, in turn, provide nutrients the plants
themselves are unable to produce sufficiently.
There are three kinds of mushrooms, classified according to their relationships with
Saprophytes clean up—they’re the garbage collectors among mushrooms. They
clean up by degrading dead organic material such as wood, leaves, needles, feathers,
hooves. They include puffballs.
Parasites are the murderers—they grow on living trees and other plants (often those
sick or weakened), extracting their nutrients but giving nothing in return
Mycorrihiza mushrooms work together with their host, providing minerals and
essential elements to the plant and receiving sugars and nutrients from the tree.
Both plant/tree and mushroom profit. The milky Lactarius quietus is always found
under oak trees, and Lactarius blendus is always found under beech.
Location is not a reliable way to find mushrooms from year to year. Mushrooms that
appear in one spot may not reappear in the same location for many years. Never go onto
private land without the landowner’s permission.
Four varieties of edible mushrooms provide early-spring to late-fall
opportunities for searching:
Morel, Morchella crassipes, is larger than the early Morel,
Verpa bohemica, and the grey or black Morel, Morchella conica.
The late summer Chanterelle, Cantharellus aurantiacus, or Orange Chanterelle,
less than two inches tall, is used in cooking and can be dehydrated for later use.
Hen of the Woods (Heather Baker)
Oyster Mushrooms, one of the most common edible mushrooms, are often found as
isolated specimens in large clumps on fallen tree trunks, especially dead maples.
The variety Pleurotus ostreatus, persisting through summer until after frost, become
moist and unusable if allowed to turn yellow after harvesting.
Hen of the Woods, Grifolia frondosus (in some field guides, the same species
as Polyporus fronosus) is a local, late fall edible mushroom found at the base of the
white oak. It looks likes a chicken crouched on the ground, made of mushroom material
and can weigh more than 40 pounds.
WARNING: Not all mushrooms are edible. Some are distasteful, some poisonous.
Use more than one field guide for identification (two are listed in More to Explore).
Eat only mushrooms known to be edible. Be absolutely certain!
Two common, INEDIBLE mushrooms:.
Scarlet Elf Cup, Sarcoscypha coccinea, is one of the first mushrooms of spring,
inedible but eye-catching. A true harbinger of spring growing close to the ground,
it is often attached to a root or piece of dead wood, in leaves, or even peeking
through melting snow. In an otherwise bleak early spring landscape, Scarlet Elf Cup’s
distinctive color makes it easy to spot (see picture in The Mushroom Hunter’s Field
Guide, Plate 3, p. 29).
Dead Man’s Fingers, Xylaria polymorpha, also inedible,
is identified in its unusual name. Its 1 to 5 inch tall erect “fingers” are attached
to a piece of dead wood. Immature specimens are off white; mature specimens are dark
brown or black. The Peterson Field Guide to Mushrooms, Plate 1, shows both
this variety and the inedible Scarlet Elf Cup.