Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Foraging For Fungus

If ever there was a good year for mushroom hunting, this is it. We've had plenty of rain all summer long into fall, and I've never seen so much fungus growing here, there, and everywhere as I have this year. Fairy rings abound.

I've always been overly cautious about wild mushrooms because I have a great fear of eating the wrong kind. I just don't know enough about them to say for certain what's edible and what isn't. But I *think* we've got plenty of the good kind just a few yards from our back door.

First, it was the puffballs (Calvatia sp.)...

A couple of weeks ago, we were cleaning up the garden over in the neighbor's yard where we grow our sweet corn and noticed a nice round fungus growing that was about the size of a softball. There was a golf ball sized one next to it.

I broke it from its base and was amazed at the heft it had for something of its size. 

I then broke it apart and saw that it was white and very dense all the way through. Puffball came to mind because of its shape so I googled it, and I'm 99% sure that's what it was. But that 1% kept me from frying it up.

Then today, we noticed that the "brains" that grow every fall at the base of one of our large oak trees were growing again this year. There were two and the largest one was the biggest we've ever seen, measuring about 15" across. The smaller one was the size we usually see. There's a third one starting on the other side of the tree too.

"Hen of the woods," with chickweed growing around it on the right! Ha!

Until now, I'd never bothered to search for information on this particular fungus. I was surprised to learn that it's Grifola frondosa, otherwise known as "hen of the woods." And guess what? This one's edible too. The Japanese call it maitake and it's supposed to have the texture and taste of chicken breast, my favorite part of the chicken. 

Grifola frondosa

I think it's starting to dry out in this section.

Maitake is normally found growing at the base of oak trees, and is a parasitic fungus that feeds on the roots of the tree. It's a beneficial parasite, wanting its host to live so that it can continue to glean nutrients for its own benefit. The fungus can usually be found year after year for as many as 10 years, but in most cases the tree eventually dies, perhaps due to a combination of the prolonged parasitic action and environmental stresses such as drought or high winds. 

Grifola frondosa

Our tree where this is found has so far been just fine, although it has been damaged over the years from lightning strikes. Many years ago it took a particularly hard hit and the evidence can be seen on the southeast side of the tree in the form of a large longitudinal ridge running all the way up the side of the tree from the ground up. It's a very large tree, estimated to be close to 200 years old.

For the first time in a long time, there is no "chicken of the woods" (Laetiporus sulphureus) growing on the large oak tree on the other side of the yard this fall. We always anticipate its appearance each year, if for no other reason than to marvel at its otherworldly mustard yellow color. It always reminds me of that foam insulation that comes in an aerosol can.  It too is edible, but no, we've never tried it.

"Chicken of the woods" (Laetiporus sulphureus), growing about six feet up,
on the trunk of one of our large oak trees.

What all this means is that we've apparently got some really good eating going to waste in our yard. If I was absolutely, positively, undeniably positive that these wouldn't poison me, I'd be frying them up in a heartbeat. I love mushrooms and so does Romie, even though he's been advised not to eat them because of his various environmental allergies.

What do you think? Are we letting a good thing go to waste or are we being wise in our caution?


Lisa at Greenbow said...

An interesting array of fungus growing in and around your garden.

Amy said...

Personally, I'd be all over eating up that hen of the woods. I know chicken of the woods are edible...but they just don't look appealing. And not so sure about the puffball either. But Hen of the Woods? Heck yeah!

Jeff Morgan said...

I don't know if I could ever be convinced to go foraging around my backyard for the perfect accompaniment to a t-bone.

I would constantly be worrying if I would be planning my demise.

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