When we hunt, we are focused on specific things we know and want to harvest: Golden Chanterelles, Morels, Lions Mane, Chicken of the Woods, Hedgehogs, Lobsters, Oysters, etc.
But part of the joy of mushroom hunting is also discovery of the unknown. When my son and I lead groups down into the Gifford Pinchot, during a typical foray we may see 60 or 70 different varieties of mushrooms, of all sizes, shapes, colors, etc. Our new hunt participants almost always stop at the first interesting mushroom they see, and exult: "What is it? It's beautiful! Can we eat it?"
And we typically respond: "I don't know. It is beautiful. Take a picture. Don't eat it."
But, that's not always true. We do know what a lot of the mushrooms we stumble across are, or at least we have an intelligent guess. Many are edible under certain conditions; most simply wouldn't taste good or would be too difficult to prepare; and some are downright toxic.
But we always try to collect at least three different samples of shrooms we don't yet know, for later identification once we have the luxury of time at home.
Our Labor Day foray to the Gifford Pinchot, last Monday, turned up a number of very interesting mushrooms that we wanted to identify but didn't intend to eat. There were three in particular, pictured below.
This time of year we see a lot of coral or club fungi. They are often orange-ish in color, or sometimes white like the one depicted at left. This one looked a bit like a cauliflower. With the help of the field guide Mushrooms of the Northwest, we determined that it was probably a Ramaria gelatinosa, fairly common in the Pacific Northwest. The guide says that the gelatinous Ramarias "cause diarrhea in most people," so I'm not inclined to test that diagnosis.
In the center are some polypores we found growing on decaying wood. They are papery thin and tough and may be different from one another (note the purplish color on the one at left and in foreground; the other is more brownish). Our best guess on these was Polyporus melanopus.
But the real prize in the group is the large blue shroom on the right, with a smaller version to its left. We suspected due to its unique gill structure that this was some form of rare Chanterelle, and we were correct! It appears to be Polyozellus multiplex, the coveted Blue Chanterelle. These are considered an edible delicacy, but it's not advised; because they are so rare, accurate identification may be complicated.
It smelled good ... but we let it go. We found plenty of Golden Chanterelles on our hunt to console ourselves.
I have learned a lot from and thoroughly enjoy the identification process. In addition to Mushrooms of the Northwest, we use an entertaining little field guide called All the Rain Promises and More, by David Arora. The cover image (below) says it all.
P.S.: Our pursuit of identification often leads us to make delightful discoveries when it comes to mushroom nomenclature, as well. One time I found a large brown polypore in the roots at the base of a Douglas Fir. Later identification informed us it was a Dyer's Polypore, a mushroom known to cause Brown Buttrot in trees.
Another time we were delighted to discover a large number of small puffballs we had found, which create clouds of green or brown "smoke" when you stomp on them (billions of spores, in reality; not smoke, of course) were of the genus Lycoperdon, which is Latin for "wolf fart."
If you're sensing a pattern here ... that the gross humor in some mushroom names appeals to the little boy in us grown men ... you would probably be correct!