Monday, September 13, 2010

Mushrooms are Beautiful but Watch Out!

I found these mushrooms growing in the middle of my neighbor’s grass. When plants and lawns all around have been withering from lack of rain, these guys seem to be thriving. It surprised me. I thought mushrooms, being fungi, needed dampness and shade to flourish; these had neither and were doing just fine.

My father-in-law used to identify mushrooms and actually eat them from the field near his vacation cabin in Massachusetts. That always scared me and not without cause. Many mushrooms are poisonous. The giant puffball mushrooms are considered safe, I understand, but are these those? “Wildman” Steve Brill says you need to be 100% sure of the mushroom you are about to eat. Eat the wrong one and you can find yourself with anything from a slight tummy ache to what the drug ads call a “fatal incident.”

They are interesting, though, and come in a large variety. Maybe the ones I have been seeing are the “skull-shaped puffballs,” which only refers to the way it grows not to any lethal qualities. Mushroom identification can be enticing. There are mushroom clubs and tours and identification courses and videos and books and…If you are serious about checking out mushrooms, here are a couple of sites to get you started:

I wouldn’t trust myself to correctly identify the safe from the dangerous mushrooms, at least not yet, so I think I’ll continue to buy mine at the market. But that doesn’t mean I am immune to their beauty, in all their unique shapes, colors, and sizes.


  1. Your essay reminded me that several years ago, we had a huge orange, disc shaped mushroom growing on one of our trees. One day, my husband saw a man cutting it off. My husband asked him what he was doing and the man seemd embarrassed that he had not asked permission; he had planned on cooking and eating it. My husbnad assured him that it was fine for him to take it but asked if he wasn't worried. The man said that he knew what he was doing and it would be delicious. We did not ask for a taste!!!!!!!!

  2. Very wise, Claire. I look at my favorite shitakes differently now.