Many thanks to Jon Ellifritz and Connie Durnan of the Mycological Association of Washington (MAW) for leading Marlene Berlin and Pat Davies on a rather wet mushroom walk on Saturday, October 12th. Marge Rachlin tried to join us, but the ground was just too slippery for her.
Jon is an official mushroom identifier. Most of the mushrooms we saw were what he called “wood rotters.” Some break down the cellulose and others, the lignin, which is part of wood cell walls.
They had descriptive names such as Turkey Tails, Fake Turkey Tails, Dog Noses, and Ear mushrooms (yes, shaped like an ear). The oyster mushroom, another wood rotter, gets its name not from its shape but from its taste.
Connie was thoroughly delighted when we came upon a mushroom that looked like it had tiny icicles, or what the aficionados would call teeth, hanging from it.
These are supposed to be quite delicious.
We found tiny puffballs that when you hit them with a stick, they collapsed and let out a brown puff of air. Most of the mushrooms we found had pores, unlike other mushrooms which have gills (like portobello) or teeth. These structures produce and release spores.
One of the mushrooms we found is called the Death Angel. It is very poisonous but looks quite innocent, somewhat like a button mushroom in coloring, but with a pointier cap. Jon and Connie told us a story about a poisoning in the area a couple of years ago and a fellow, who had been hospitalized, was saved by a medicine derived from milk thistle. Both warned us not to eat any mushrooms unless accompanied by an official mushroom identifier. The MAW has a few of them.
While on the walk Jon mentioned how certain insects and fungi are interconnected. He told the story of the Pigeon Horntail, a wasp relative.
“It has a long ovipositor that deposits an egg in a dead tree, but it also carries spores of a fungus, Cerrena unicolor (a polypore), in a pouch in its abdomen, and deposits some of these along with its egg. They germinate and the fungus digests the wood within the tree trunk. The horntail larvae either eat the fungus, or the digested wood. The Ichneumon, another wasp relative, is attracted either by the sounds from the horntail larvae or an odor emitted by the fungus, and deposits one of its eggs on or next to the horntail larvae. Once hatched, the Ichneumon larva feeds on the horntail larva.”
If you want to learn more about the fascinating world of fungi and mushrooms, attend MAW’s monthly meetings to hear speakers on such subjects as mycology and medicine, orchids and fungi, and insects and fungi. These meetings are held at the Kensington Park Library, the first Tuesday of every month. They welcome visitors.