**Disclaimer: I am a relative novice fungal lover. Presented identifications should not be considered absolute. Never consume a mushroom without being absolutely 200% sure of its identity and cooking it thoroughly. You need a free permit to harvest any mushrooms for personal use off of USFS land (which all areas on this tour, and much of the WCF, are).
I spent most of last weekend on only a couple miles of trail within the Weaverville Community Forest (WCF) scouting for mushrooms.
The WCF is the focus of my service work this year at the Trinity County Resource Conservation District; while usually I’m thinking more about the trees and streams and people of the WCF, any time I’m in the forest I can’t help but be enthralled by its fungi. I wanted to share this love with the Weaverville and GrizzlyCorps communities through a virtual tour of sorts of winter WCF fungi to raise awareness of the WCF and where it is, and show how easy it can be to find and appreciate fungi!
First a little about these wild organisms. “Mushrooms'' are generally the “fruiting bodies” of fungi, or what comes up out of its substrate like the main stem and leaves of a plant. Fungi are decomposers of many different organisms. Some are specific, only parasitizing one species or group, and some are general, breaking down many types of plants and nutrients. Some take over the nervous systems of insects, and some are highly specified to the root systems of orchids and trees and actually create communication networks! Some are delicious, some will make you hallucinate, and some can kill you! Fungi play very diverse and important roles in our ecosystems, but we’ll keep it simple for this post.
Let’s take a look at what I found! On Saturday, I took part of the Garden Gulch Trail from Taylor Street (image 1). This area of the WCF may not look like Northern California forest to everyone; it has seen both prescribed fire and wildfire in the last 20 years and is home to many oaks in addition to more stereotypical conifers (images 2-4). Along/near the trail I found:
Crucibulum laeve, or White-egg bird’s nest. (Left)
This species is part of a unique group of fungi whose spores develop in small “eggs” internal to the mushroom. This makes them relatively easy to identify, or at least gives you an easy starting place. They really creep me out, but I was excited to find some!
Entoloma sp. (Below)
From what I could tell, I think this might be E. sericeum. When mushroom caps overlap like some of these, you can sometimes find spores deposited on the lower cap. Entolomas have pink spores! However without taking it home and with some of these looking a little different, I’m not sure exactly what we’re looking at. They’re a really beautiful shade of brown and some reminded me of thin mint cookies (though would not be as tasty). These were all along the beginning of the trail and easy to spot if you could see past their neutral colored camouflage!
This photo below contains three examples of mushrooms in one area! Can you spot them?
Stereum hirsutum, or False turkey tail
This shelf fungus is a very common wood decomposer that looks very much like another common decomposer called Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor), hence the common name. S. hirsutum has a smooth, orange fertile underside, while the underside of T. versicolor is pale and has pores. Both have bands on the top of the caps (like a turkey’s tail), but S. hirsutum is usually more colourful, primarily with orange.
Tremella aurantia, (left) or Witch’s butter
This jelly fungus is actually a parasite specific to S. hirsutum, which helps clarify both fungus’ identity! You can see here it’s growing directly on the shelf fungus, and is also everywhere around Garden Gulch! There is another species (of a different genus!), that looks like this one and is also called Witch’s butter, though it is a little more orange and not a S. hirsutum parasite. Both Witch’s butters are edible! I have never tried it but they’re not supposed to taste like much and I’ve read you should thoroughly boil or steam them first (though some do eat it right off the tree…).This fungus is squishy and slimy, and even if you dry it out, will swell back up if you add water.
Psathyrella corrugis (right)
It’s hard to tell in these photos, but Psathyrellas are often hygrophanous, meaning the cap will start to change color as it ages and loses moisture. This is common in several mushrooms, but helped me try to ID along with the dark brown spores I got on my finger as I photographed
At this point in the hike I crossed Garden Gulch, for which the trail is named, and continued on West Garden Gulch Trail (until now I’d been on East Garden Gulch) (below)
Mycena sp. (right)
I think this might be Mycena capillaripes but not sure. Mycenas are generally small, delicate, white-spored mushrooms often with a cap shaped like a handbell, or a “helmet” (this shape is even called mycenoid!). For these tiny mushrooms it’s good to keep a cheap hand lens in your pocket.
Psathyrella ellenae (below)
If I got this ID right, this is a California only species (an endemic)! Helpful here was the skirt, or annulus, around the stipe (a mushroom’s “stem”), which is leftover material from when the cap was attached to the stipe as a very young mushroom.
Heterotextus alpinus (right)
This was my last find of the day and my favorite. It is a jelly fungus like Witch’s butter, but still grows in the shape of a traditional mushroom?? It grows on conifer debris.
On Sunday I tried to take the Musser Homestead Loop off Musser Hill Road, but spent too much time looking at the ground and missed the trail, so just ended up wandering down some logging roads. Don’t get lost out there! This area is more stereotypical of a NorCal forest, but has also seen management; it was logged within the last year or two which can disturb fungal growing environments (though not in a majorly harmful way). Along/near the road I found:
Steccherinum ochraceum (above)
Another cool first find! I’m pretty sure of this ID since this mushroom is distinctly hairy looking with bands on the cap, and with fertile teeth, or spines, on the underside. However, apparently it usually is more widespread, looking like a crust on wood debris, and this one was more like a small shelf fungus, but I think I just found it young.
Hypholoma capnoides (right)
Though these two size tufts of mushrooms look different, I believe the larger ones are just older and decaying, while the smaller ones are relatively young. You could see obvious dark brown spore prints on overlapped caps. This mild edible is a cousin of the toxic Sulfur tuft, though this one is less sulfur-colored and (for the extremely confident) doesn’t taste like much, while its relative is bright yellow-green and tastes very bitter.
Never swallow wild mushrooms raw and always rinse your mouth if you are using taste to identify – not highly recommended.
Fomitopsis mounceae, or Red-banded polypore (left)
This bracket fungus has a creamy, white underside of pores and pink/red/orange bands on its outer edge. These are generally pretty easy, but these seem young and small on stumps so I did question if they might be something else. They were growing on the same stumps or in proximity.
Mycena abramsii (right)
Another mycenoid I didn’t feel 100% confident in, but this is where I landed on the key. I didn’t find too many other traditional shaped mushrooms growing out of wood, so this one was fun!
I could not figure out what this mushroom was but it was my favorite because it had such a nice color, was a little slimy, and had a very strong smell of cheap, fruity hand soap (like the bubble-gum pink kind in public bathrooms). I could smell it from several inches away! Let me know if you have an idea!
Fungi identification can be very difficult. I found many other mushrooms on this expedition that I could not figure out at all! Often some of the best indicators are spore color (which can be impossible to determine in the field, and even difficult to get spore prints at home), microscopic features, habitat/substrate, and sometimes smell (though I’m never good at putting names to common smells such as farinaceous, anise, or even… spermatic). The best advice I have is to take lots of pictures (especially if not harvesting); try to find young, developed, and old individuals of the same suspected species, as mushrooms can change dramatically within their lifecycle; try to get spore prints (which also make beautiful art!); get your hands on a field guide and start to key things out! Good resources include "California Mushrooms: The Comprehensive Identification Guide" and “Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast.” Both can be found used online for not too expensive. There are also apps, such as Seek, that can help identify all kinds of nature. Other reputable online resources for identification/ learning include: mykoweb.com, mushroomobserver.org, and mushroomexpert.com. Mushroom Observer is similar to iNaturalist but is only for fungi; both are useful resources, as iNaturalist is generally more popular and includes all types of organisms, and so may get more traffic.
However, identification is not necessary to still love and appreciate the beauty and enormity of fungi! One can still photograph, smell, and make art to the heart’s content without knowing the names of mushrooms (just no eating!). Happy finding!