Northland Nature: Edible ‘oyster’ fungi something to look out forMushroom growth in September is expected, but now, as we are going through October, they are waning. Mild temperatures have helped more to appear; we now have some fungi in the woods.
With the annual leaf drop happening as it did during this past week, we are now able to look far into the woods and see much more than we could when the trees were foliated. It is now when undetected bird, squirrel and hornet nests that have been with us all summer — often right in our yards — will show up. We also see the few trees still holding leaves, those that have fruits and berries and any plants in the forests that remain green, such as mosses, clubmosses and some ferns. Here too are some late-season fungi of mid-October.
Thanks to the rains and warm weather, this year was an amazing time for fungi. I noted a peak in mushroom growth (a ’shroom boom) for the first half of August.
The abundance and diversity of this time was almost unparalleled.
Mushroom growth in September is expected, but now, as we are going through October, they are waning. Mild temperatures have helped more to appear; we now have some fungi in the woods.
Recently on an outing, I found three late-season mushrooms of note.
In a yard near some large trees was a group of shaggy-mane mushrooms. Measuring between 6 and 8 inches, they are some of the area’s tallest. The cap is bell-shaped and straggly. (Hence the name.) Gills and spores are dark when they’re young and, like other Coprinus mushrooms, they become all black with age.
At another yard, at the edge of the woods, I observed a cluster of honey mushrooms hanging onto a stump. Despite the large number of mushrooms this year, I have not seen many of this kind. Every so many years, the local woods erupt with numerous clumps of honeys — apparently not this year, though.
Mushrooms get their name from the light-brown cap. Stems have rings and the white spores often fall onto the cap of other mushrooms in the same clusters.
But for me, the great fungal find was oyster fungi sticking out from the sides of a tree. Many types that grow out from tree trunks, stumps or downed logs are known as shelf fungi. Most of these shelves are tough and last several years.
Oysters are different; they are more like a mushroom. And, like other mushrooms, they have gills under the cap and are not tough (they don’t last long in this stage).
Though some oysters grow without stems, most have stems — unlike shelf fungi. The name refers to the shape of the fungus, not its texture or taste.
Another aspect of oysters that I enjoy when I find them in the October woods is that they usually appear with multiple bodies. It is not uncommon to see several white or brown growths standing out from a tree trunk. Though most are rather low to the ground, some will be as high as 10 feet up as well.
Gathering plenty of food at this time, squirrels and other small mammals will make use of these as a meal source — as do some humans. Fungal food fanciers have been known to devour these October oysters, but they are not considered as choice as others.
The leafless woods and cooperating weather is very inviting for a walk. Anyone on such an autumn trek will be able to see much going on, including some fascinating fall fungi.
Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books that are available now, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Webwood." Contact him c/o firstname.lastname@example.org.