If you think about it, mushrooms are more like humans than plants – plants can use the sun to make their own energy, while mushrooms (and humans) are incapable of making their own energy. They’re ‘fleshy’ like us; some mushrooms even resemble humans anatomically, sort of, and they thrive in similar environmental conditions. And, like people, some of them are good for you, some of them are toxic, and some of them could kill you. What’s more, the genetics of humans and fungi show they share a common ancestor – likely a single-cell organism about 1.1 billion years ago!
No wonder there are people who devote their studies to the fascinating science of mycology – the study of fungi.
A couple of those mushroom experts from the Boston Mycological Club led a pretty big group of around 50 people out on a mushroom walk on Sunday, September 30, sponsored by the Sippican Lands Trust. Splitting into smaller groups, participants hunted the forest floor of the SLT White Eagle property in Marion for mushrooms of all shapes, sizes, and colors, and brought them all back to a long table for identification and discussion.
There was a small number of mushrooms that are edible, of course, but most of those mushrooms on that table you wouldn’t want to eat, whether they simply tasted bad, could make you hallucinate, could make you sick, or could make you die; some would make you really sick before you got better and felt good and then you’d die. And the thing is this, a lot of them look so much alike that only a true mushroom expert could tell the difference.
Having said that, I decided to refrain from any mushroom “identification” facts in this article to avoid misleading our readers down the path to their own peril. Instead, I’ll just emphasize the ‘fun’ in fungi and share some fun information about mushrooms that mycologists Ken Fienberg and Chris Neefus and a couple other mushroom enthusiasts shared on Sunday.
First, after the waivers were signed, of course, Fienberg and Neefus urged people not to eat any mushrooms based on the two mycologists’ identification of them – enough of a warning for many of us to jettison the thought of ever eating wild mushrooms that we ourselves identified, given that even an expert isn’t 100 percent certain.
There are actually many factors to identifying a mushroom beyond just its appearance. It’s important to take a good look at the base of the mushroom hidden beneath the earth. You have to look at where it’s growing – near pine trees, or oak trees? You have to peel back a layer or two, squeeze it a bit to watch it change color, even smear some on something like cloth or paper to see if it will make a stain within a minute. And, if still in doubt, you could always take a small bite and chew it just a little to ascertain whether it is bitter or not before spitting it out. After all, one must fully ingest a poisonous mushroom in order to be sickened! Then if you’re still unsure, just don’t do it.
“If I don’t know what it is, I don’t eat it,” said Fienberg.
If you’re interested in learning more about mushrooms from the Boston Mycological Club, the country’s oldest amateur mycology club, visit www.bostonmycologicalclub.org. To find out about future events sponsored by the Sippican Lands trust, visit www.sippicanlandstrust.org.
By Jean Perry