Yes, some food foragers hunt for mushrooms to savor, but I seek out these “flowers of the forests” for other reasons — the thrill of the hunt, the chance to photograph their beauty and the puzzle of finding their ID.
I wasn’t always this way. My first introductions to mushrooms were through friends who invited me to go morel hunting in the spring. I tagged along but never seemed to have the eye or patience to spot the elusive honeycomb-capped delicacies on the woodland floor. I seemed to get too distracted by the wildflowers in bloom. By luck one fall, my soccer-loving son and I were hiking and spotted a puffball mushroom thinking the large orb was an abandoned soccer ball.
This fall, my indifference for the fungi world changed when another friend invited me to a mushroom workshop. Predictably, the audience kept asking the presenter if this one is edible or that one was poisonous. But each time, he would respond “I just like to hunt for them not eat them.” I thought “how bizarre” to be a mushroom expert but have no interest in their culinary value. After the talk, my friend and I headed to look over his impressive collection spread across a big table. There were striated shelf fungi, big puffballs and even dainty red-capped ones. We oohed and awed at their diversity in color, texture and form, all found throughout Ohio.
No surprise, I returned home with a new set of eyes. I started looking for the more obvious mushrooms and fungi – the bright-orange Chicken Mushrooms and patterned Turkey Tails. Then I noticed more obscure ones — oyster mushrooms up the side of a decaying tree and velvet foot mushrooms on a decaying log. I ordered a Midwest mushroom guide and borrowed a more comprehensive one from the library. Gradually, I started seeking out others on the underside of logs or on newly fallen dead trees. I even experimented with making mushroom spore prints to confirm IDs. Thankfully, we had a wet winter with many warmer days, which are ideal for winter mushrooms.
So, in the next few weeks, I encourage others to explore this amazing fungi world, especially as the woods thaw and before they’re covered with a layer of competing green growth. While I’m still a novice, I share the following images and resource links with hopes others might also discover these fascinating fungi. For the mycologists reading this, I welcome your help with the IDs. Happy hunting!