Friday, April 15, 2011

Did you have a "moss moment" today?

Seward Park "moss moment"
posted by Melissa

Chemistry and Alegbra have been consuming me...even more than what songs I will sing for karaoke month in December.  Sneak peek though, I am feeling kinda partial to Air Supply and "Stuck on You" by Lionel Richie. (admittedly, I thought it was sung by Kenny Rogers when I heard it in a bank today.  wow.)  I have another one, a real winner I am keeping in my back pocket...but you'll just have to wait.

The mushrooms are still pushing their way into my life, and I love learning more about them.  What I love most, is when I make it a priority to get out into nature to go hunting for mushrooms.  (Even if the dirty dishes are piling up in that cute little kitchen.)
Today we went to Seward Park, and it was truly magical.  I felt like I was five again, rubbing my hand against moss on a tree.  Moss the color of the wool carpet we had in my living room as a child in the 70's.  (I know, the color was darker in real life, mom.)  To say "I felt so alive," would be an understatement.

In an effort to involve my brain on these walks, and not just my exploding heart, we have been going to classes.  Yesterday evening was the second on a series of four classes that Amy and I are taking on "Beginning Mushroom ID."  It is hosted and taught by members of PSMS. (Puget Sound Mycological Society)  Our teacher was Danny Miller, and his knowledge of fungi coupled with a quick wit and one liner sense of humor, made for an enjoyable class.

We started at the basic classifications of life, learning that Fungi is one of the Kingdoms, just as are Plants and Animals.  The Fungi Kingdom shares qualities of each; needing to "eat" food (i.e. not able to make their own food such as plants do) like the Animal Kingdom does, but not being able to move around to gather that food, like the stationary Plant Kingdom.

Mushrooms are then categorized more and more.  Firstly, into two phylums: Ascomycota and  Basidiomycota.  The basidiomycetes are all the gilled mushrooms.  The ascomycetes are the more primitive of the mushrooms, and have not evolved from the pre-gill stages of spore storing.  From there they are further broken down into Order, Family, Genus and Species.  As mushroom foragers, we are interested in last two classifications when identifying specimens.

There is also a way to group mushrooms as far as their role in the ecosystem.

  • Saprophytic - grows on dead organic plant matter, like fallen trees for example.  If it weren't for these mushrooms, constantly breaking down the dead matter in the forest, as our teacher noted, we might have a hard time walking through.  It would be more like swimming through leaves and sticks 6 feet tall.  These are the most easily, and only commercially, grown mushroom type available.
  • Mycorrhizal - form a mutually dependent, beneficial relationship with the roots of host plants, ranging from trees to grasses.  These are difficult to cultivate due to the need for old growth trees, and sometimes massive networks of mycllium formed around the roots of the forest trees. 
  • Parasitic - damage the health of trees species and other living organisms.  They are often called the "bad" mushrooms, however, recent studies could be indicating some constituents found in these mushrooms could be beneficial in medicine.  Also, who knows what benefits mother nature had in mind with these bad mushrooms.  My guess is, she had good intentions with all mushrooms if you look at the big picture.

So, with all that in mind, we set off into the arduous task if keying out the mushrooms.  To "key" something is to go through a series of qualitative questions.  When answered correctly, these questions lead to the page in a book where you can learn more about the genus and species you have found.

In class, we each had a cremini mushroom foraged from the local Safeway to key.  Danny walked us through the questions, including things like: 
  • what color was the spore print?
  • if gilled, how were the gills attached?
  • what color was the cap?
After pages and pages of questions and answers, we came to the genus and species of the mushroom he had bought before class, Agaricus bisporus.

If keying isn't your thing, or you don't feel like you can totally trust your answer, there are other options. When you join PSMS, these are available:
  • On Mondays from 4-7p PSMS hosts a mushroom ID clinic.  You bring in some fungi you found and a knowledgable member will let you know what you have.  Even if you don't have something foraged, stop in and learn from what other have brought.
  • PSMS hold monthly Memberhip Meetings the 2nd Tuesday of every month September through June.
  • PSMS  and PNW Mushroomers both have yahoo groups where the beginning mushroom forager can post a photo of a found fungi and get more experienced opinions on what it is.
There is also a program you can download, called Matchmaker, that you can get for free.  I have to tell you, I was amazed by the demonstration we saw of this.  I tried this evening to get it, but it didn't work.  Either it's me, or the fact that I have a Mac.  

And next:
More on our afternoon Seward Park mushroom hunt we went on, coming tomorrow....


No comments: