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What is This Cool Mushroom I Just Found?

You could go ask Alice... Or a better choice might be to consult someone who really knows.

For those unfamiliar with mushroom foraging and that have wondered just how this crazy hobby works, I'm sharing my latest investigation of some mushrooms I found on our property. I took a very casual approach, if you are seriously interested there really nice guide books out there and most foragers I know belong to a group or have a close circle of foraging friends that get together for foraging expeditions in order to share their finds and learn from each other.

For me, the search is mainly a fascination with all aspects of the fungi kingdom. They're not just food, medicine or a psychoactive medium, it's all of that but mainly, they just enthrall me. If the fey folk exist, it is in close relation to fungi , they are a gateway to my creative imagination.

So, back to these particular mushrooms. There are a lot of factors to consider when you are trying to identify one. I took photos and made note of where they were located, in particular, what kind of trees they were growing on or near. They were under an oak and near birch and several kinds of conifer.

I noticed also that they appeared to be in pairs, but I'm not sure that is much of a factor. Their height, shape and color are, however, important details, as well as how they hold their spores. This puts them into one of several categories of mushroom type. They can be held in tube-like structures as in the polypores and boletes or, in this case, there were gills under the cap. These mushrooms had gorgeous purple gills that attached themselves at the top of the stem. There are more variations, you can get into gill structure and spore shape and color but this is just to give you an idea of what you are looking for. I remind you, this is a casual introduction to the hobby, there is so much more to know here.

I picked the mushroom, which is just the fruit of the fungi, picking them does not kill the whole thing. (FYI, fungi are not plants or animals, they have their own kingdom.) I was careful to get the whole stem so I could see its shape and to look for either a skirt-like structure at the top (ring) or a cup at the base (volva), both are further identifying factors. I broke the stem away from the cap and after admiring the beautiful pattern of those purple gills. I set it down on white and black papers to see what color its spore print is -- Leaving it over night the spores fall on to the paper which shows you what color they are and that can be a good clue to the mushroom's identity. Not only that, the print looks cool.

Next, I checked for them in a foraging book but wasn’t satisfied with what I found there. I followed up by using an app I have to see what that gave me, it identified them as Purple Laccaria. I took that information to the internet and it left me a little confused, the glut of images didn't all jive with what my mushrooms looked like. Worse yet, one result was edible, and one was not. In the end I sent my photos over to my neighbor Claudia, who is a fairly seasoned forager, and she didn't recognize it. She offered to share my photos with the expert she was going hiking with.

Crazy, eh? It takes a village. Or at least a network of resources to identify an unfamiliar mushroom. I'll have my spore print by tomorrow, that may help, and maybe Claudia will get an answer from her source. More often than not though, these beautiful things are just fodder for my camera. I frame a few shots and then go on my way, happy and amused.

I really think it’s worth reading more about mushrooms and the fungi kingdom, people are doing a lot of research and finding all kinds of interesting things out about them. For starters, you might watch that great movie “Fantastic Fungi” or listen to any interview with Paul Stamets, either of those should whet your appetite. There's so much to enjoy here. But remember, never eat a mushroom unless you're sure that you're sure. (Please be sure!) I think I’ve shown with this example that there are a lot of factors to proper identification of a mushroom and there are a lot of lookalikes.

Oh, and never eat them raw. Just don’t. Because, as we all know from Lewis Carroll’s enigmatic caterpillar, 'One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you grow shorter.' Seriously, which is it and do you really want to be like Alice? There’s no clue as to which side is which or if that crazy stoned caterpillar is even telling the truth! Seriously though, be cautious but don't be shy, exploring is so fun.

Follow up: Claudia’s friend identified them as Laccaria Ochrapurpurea or Purple Laccaria, which concurred with my app. (I just want to give a shout-out to NatGeo for their SEEK app here. My cousin Nancy told me about it and I have not been disappointed. Use it to identify anything in the biological/natural world.)

Also, my spore print is done, it came out white. This also fits the ID. According to what I read, I can cook and eat the caps... Maybe, maybe not.


Cheers to all you curious people out there.

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