Goodness, it’s the fall equinox already, and so much is happening here on the coast! We finally got the first real rain we’ve had in months over the weekend, and the dry spell was certainly broken by over three inches of rain in less than 72 hours. I appreciated the cooler weather, as well as the shift in wildlife activity (fewer insects, more banana slugs!) I did manage to make it out for nice, long walks with my dog in the breaks between storm systems.
I’m also anticipating the flourishes of mushrooms that often appear after rain. The additional water encourages fungi to grow the fruiting bodies that we know as mushrooms, since the wetter weather helps the mycelium feed nutrients to the necessary locations near the surface. Now, since we did have a very long dry period (I believe the last time we got rain here was early May), one bout of rain may not be enough to wake up all the fungi. And it may be a few more weeks before we get really consistent rain. (Given that mushroom spores can actually make it rain by helping raindrops form, maybe I should go shake some spores into the sky!)
Last week before the rain I did find a few interesting specimens. The Pacific golden chanterelles (Cantharellus formosus) in my favorite spot have been fruiting since June; they don’t mind the dry weather! I managed to find a few of them, along with a tiny little flush of oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus.) I also brought home a trio of Russula sp. so I could try and figure out whether they were the edible R. xerampelina, or an inedible lookalike. I used several field guides and some online resources; after finding that the mushrooms neither had the shellfish scent nor a particularly fishy flavor when chewed and spat out, I decided to err on the side of NOT getting gastrointestinal distress and put them back outside.
A similar fate awaited some chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sp., probably conifericola or, less likely, gilbertsonii) that I received that was picked by another person. I was pretty sure, judging by the rotting wood at the base, that it had been collected from a conifer tree. Now, there’s debate as to whether the acidic nature of conifer wood compared to deciduous wood makes the mushrooms growing on it also acidic. Anecdotally, Laetiporus species are known to cause gastrointestinal upset in about ten percent of the people, and allergic reactions in a smaller percentage than that. Whether it’s the conifers, or some other chemical compound, the jury’s still out. My partner and I did cook and try a small amount; I found it rather acrid tasting, and he ended up with a bit of stomach upset, so we decided not to chance worse effects, and instead will wait until we find our own Laetiporus in situ.
In the meantime, I’m looking forward to heading out to some of my favorite local places to see whether the rain has indeed scared up any edible mushrooms to eat!