The next time there are a couple of dry days after the rain, you should go for a walk in the woods. Thar be mushrooms!
If you find yourself leaning towards the mycological, head on over to my favourite local bookstore, Banyen Books, and grab a copy of ‘All That the Rain Promises, and More: a hip pocket guide to western mushrooms’ by David Arora.
Arora is a guru of the mushroom world and this book is a perfect companion to have handy on a mushroom ramble. It’s a wonderful book that covers all the key information about identifying and collecting mushrooms, as well as medicinal mushrooms, cooking mushrooms, dyeing with mushrooms and there’s even a section on mushrooms and kids.
The best way to begin getting to know your friendly neighbourhood fungi is to grab this book (or a book specific to your region), go to the woods/park and start staring at the ground. Don’t focus on finding mushrooms for eating. It’s unlikely that you’ll feel comfortable enough with your identification skills to chow down for a while anyway. Just get out and meet some. Say hello. Take some pictures. Look at what they’re growing on and/or under. What do they feel like? What do they look like underneath; do they have gills or spongey tubes? Do they talk back? Some mushrooms are extremely unique and that makes identifying them easy.
When you feel ready to move onto edible mushroom hunting, I recommend getting to know the boletes. The famous porcini (Boletus edulis) are a member of this exclusive club. They have spongey tubes (tubules actually) on the underside of the cap instead of gills, so you know right away when you’re looking at one. Plus, the poisonous boletes are all very distinctive, with large bright red tubules and other parts. The book has pictures of them, so you’ll see what I mean. There are some very poisonous mushrooms out there, but the majority are decent folks and many are even delicious. Just don’t go home with strangers and you can’t go wrong.
Inside the cover of the book is a quick key to identifying mushrooms. This will direct you to the appropriate mushroom group based on how you answer basic questions about the questionable mushroom in question. It’s good to make use of it, not only because it’s helpful but, because it trains you to look at the important identifying characteristics.
Foraging in Vancouver City Parks is allowed, but Provincial Parks are a no-no. This includes the UBC Endowment Lands. I know – bummer, right? However, you’ll probably see people from the old country in there filling a bag anyway. It’s still a good place to go looking. Golden Ears and Garibaldi Provincial Parks are filled with amazing looking mushrooms, so bring your book along for walks and hikes – it’s fun to identify them even though you’re not allowed to pick them. There are also lots of interesting mushrooms along residential streets right in the city.
One of the big bolete specimens in Garibaldi Provincial Park.
The ways of mushrooms are fairly mysterious, but its polite to leave some to spore naturally (so don’t pick them all), and some foragers even cut the stalks rather than pull them out to protect the mycelium (but you need to see the entire mushroom for complete identification of some).
I highly recommend you buy a copy of David Arora’s book and give them to your friends for Christmas. Especially the ones who like to hike, have cabins, or need an excuse to get out in nature more often.
If you want to connect with other friends of the mushroom, investigate your local Mycological Society. The Vancouver Mycological Society organizes the annual Vancouver Mushroom Show (each year at the beginning of November) as well as monthly meetings and seasonal forays. Non-members are welcome to attend a limited number of meetings to check things out.
The next meeting is on Tuesday, December 11th at VanDusen Botanical Garden (Floral Hall), Oak & 37th Avenue, 7:30 pm. Meetings are fairly casual with 30 to 50 people of all ages in attendance. Bring your fresh fungi finds in for show and tell and share your mushroom-fuelled excitement with other mushroom-lovers.
My only warning about mushroom hunting is – take a break now and then or all that staring at the ground will give you a stiff neck! Once you start seeing mushrooms, it’s hard to stop looking. They are everywhere! Kids make amazing mushroom hunters (closer to the ground…), so bring them along and learn together. An early forager is a life-long forager.