Hidden Treasures: Fungi in the Parks

October 2, 2015 by A Parks Pal

What if each time you visit a Pittsburgh park, you were really on a treasure hunt? What if the clues, and even the treasures themselves, constantly changed?

Would you participate?

What is this hunt all about?

Golden Chanterelle - Cantharellus species The words treasure hunt bring to mind exciting quests to find buried gold and silver by following ancient clues on faded parchment. In today’s world, a treasure hunt has morphed into a game played at birthday parties and social events where everyone enjoys the challenge of outsmarting their peers with the hope of being the first to solve all of the clues. Geocaching has drawn countless adventurers around the world to hide or seek treasures using GPS. Treasures range from the worthless to the valuable and the hunt for the unknown drives these explorers to pursue the prize.

A dynamic adventure for all ages is already underway. But do not fear! You are not too late to join the search. The treasure is called fungi and the treasure map is sketched by the changes in the weather, the presence of specific trees, the soil conditions, the time of the year and many other factors.

What treasures am I hunting this season?

A recent visit to Schenley Park uncovered the following fungi, and, if the weather conditions are favorable, it is likely that the observant seeker will find these treasures, too:

Others10Jack O’Lantern Mushroom
Scientific Name: Omphalotus illudens

Fun Facts: This mushroom glows green in complete darkness. It is also poisonous but a derivative of the poison is currently being studied for its effectiveness in attacking some cancers.

others12Bear’s Head tooth fungus or Lion’s Mane
Scientific Name: Hericium americanum

Fun Facts: This mushroom is known to have nerve-regenerative properties which are being studied by researchers. For an interesting project, this mushroom can be grown at home with a simple kit that can be found online.


Ringless Honey Mushrooms

The Ringless Honey Mushroom
Scientific Name: Armillaria tabescens

Fun Facts: This mushroom is often found in tight clusters in the grass under oak or silver maple tree or where hardwood trees formerly stood. Harvesting is discouraged so as to minimize the spread of spores; this species is known to attack hardwood trees, especially oaks and silver maples.

Others7The Honey Mushroom
Scientific Name: Armillaria mellea

Fun Facts: The vegetative part of the fungal organism is called the mycelium and is made up of branching fibers. This species has a bio-luminescent mycelium; it glows in the dark. A west coast relative (in eastern Oregon), called an Armillaria ostoyae, holds the title for the largest known organism in the world (almost 2400 acres in size).

Others6Shrimp of the Woods
Scientific Name: Entoloma abortivum

Fun Facts: This fungus forms when the Entoloma mushroom attacks the Honey Mushroom and becomes a parasite, forming the lumpy mass known to some as Shrimp of the Woods. You can see all three specimens in this photo.

Others11Chicken of the Woods
Scientific Name: Laetiporus sulphureus

Fun Facts: Trained experts who have harvested this mushroom (outside of the parks!) have found it to have the same texture as chicken, and easily absorbs the flavors of the sauce or spices in which it is cooked.*

Others4Hen of the Woods, Maitake, or Sheepshead
Scientific Name: Grifola frondosa

Fun Facts: The colder evenings this fall will help to kick start the growth of these mushrooms. With the right conditions, they grow up to 40-50 lbs and they are rumored to grow as large as even 100 lb.

Witch's ButterWitch’s Butter
Scientific Name: Tremella mesenterica

Fun Facts: This fungus is not picky about the temperature. It likes warm and cold weather and usually appears in rainy weather.

What to do with the treasures once they are discovered?

  • Forage for "fotos." Fungi make an excellent subject for “foto-foraging” regardless of your photography experience.
  • Become a citizen scientist. Support the research community.
  • Encourage discovery in younger generations. Already, many of today’s medicines are derived from fungi, and others are in the developmental stages. Budding scientists may discover an answer to the many industrial challenges that face the world. The recycling industry has already found fungi to be effective for many applications.
  • Art. Some species are used as blank canvases for sketching, to create 3D objects, for creative spore printing, and even to make dyes.
The Split Gill Fungus - Schizophyllum commune

What about harvesting?

Fungi found in Pittsburgh's city parks must be left to rest so that everyone can enjoy them. Pittsburgh's city parks do not permit anyone to remove mushrooms from them.

How should mushrooms be documented?

There are a few basic things to note:

  • Was the mushroom found in the woods and if so, what types of trees were nearby?
  • Was it attached to wood or was it attached to the ground (terrestrial)?
  • In what time of year was it found?
  • Photograph the mushroom from all angles for future reference. It is important to get a clear photo of the underside.

All images and content for today's post were provided by Josh Doty, author of the blog Foto-Foraging, a collection of his fotos of fungi, fauna, flora, forest, field, farmer and food found while “foto-foraging” on foot. Check it out here!

Want to learn more about mycology and foraging? Check out the Western PA Mushroom Club!

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