Shattered Mushroom Dreams

After harvesting my first mushroom meal of fresh chanterelles I thought my new hobby would really take off. I was excited for the mushroom hunting apparel that I could don for future forest expeditions, namely the collection basket that allows the spores to spread as you walk. Instead what I found was that every other mushroom I came across was increasingly difficult to identify, and some came with larger consequences than just a sore tummy should the identification be wrong. My mycophile dreams were shattered, along with my confidence in mushroom identification.

The white mushrooms with the crumbling brown center in the collage above could be false parasols, a poisonous mushroom common to Georgia according to Healing Mushrooms. I passed them while walking my dog on September 22, but given they were in someone else’s yard I didn’t stop very long to investigate. They vanished quickly.

Red russulas were yet another fungi that appeared in the grass that day – September 22. There are hundreds of kinds of russula mushrooms, making these exact russulas impossible to identify with confidence. The spotting and other marks, along with the size in comparison to the much younger red mushroom, made me question whether these were indicators of a specific species, signs of an overripe mushroom, or the result of ants nibbling at the mushroom top. There was so much variety in appearance just among the four mushrooms that I photographed that I was extremely nervous to try and identify them further.

The brown clusters of mushrooms in the image above could be the ringless honey mushroom, which appeared on October 7. Many clusters appeared near tree roots in my backyard, which could indicate a dying tree nearby, or cause root rot in a healthy one. Thankfully my dog was not tempted to eat any of them, and they disappeared before they could spread very far. Nevertheless, the clusters were enormous and tall, which made them kind of intimidating. I kicked one over to check for the ring and didn’t find one, but then again I found it hard to tell what was dirt and what was a marking, and couldn’t get over the fact that the color was much darker on certain clusters than others, and didn’t precisely match what I saw online. This was another case where I wasn’t sure if the mushrooms were simply overripe or a different species altogether.

These last few mushrooms will forever remain a mystery, since as I mentioned earlier, my dreams of being a mycophile were shattered before they were realized. I posted photos of the reddish brown mushrooms (which appeared September 21) online for help but no one was able to assure me of what specific fungi I was facing. The upwards curl of one of the mushrooms made it particularly difficult to identify, since there wasn’t a single red mushroom with a yellow underside I could find that had this feature. It was located very close to the domed red mushrooms in the adjacent photo, which made me wonder once more, is this a different mushroom species, is it overripe, or does this particular mushroom simply have a unique personality with a unlikely habit of curling upwards?

This final image of some very small, round, white mushrooms growing side by side is another mystery to me. Could they balloon up to become giant puffballs? Or, will they stay this size until they shrink down and whither away?

These white mushrooms appeared on October 24.

Mushroom identification is not a skill one can acquire overnight. That is, unless it is acquired in a dream. My time spent searching the web for lookalike fungi probably would have been better spent searching through a field guide specific to my area. Nevertheless I learned a valuable lesson in observation. If it wasn’t for my desperation to acquire a new skill, I may never have noticed the variety of local fungi, their *general* taxonomy, or the timing of their appearances and disappearances. Do you recognize any of these fungi? Let me know in the comments!

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