Going on a Mushroom Hunt!
With fall comes crisp air, reddish-orange leaves, apple picking, jack o’ lanterns, and – of course! – mushrooms! Hundreds of fascinating species of mushrooms are happily popping their caps out of moss, wood, soil, mulch, bark, and mud all over western Massachusetts right now and thanks to the wet weather we’ve had, they have excellent growing conditions!
While mushroom foraging should only be done by those who are very confident in their ability to properly identify edible species, searching for mushrooms to observe is a safe and fascinating outdoor activity! Careful examination of a spot in the woods that receives little foot traffic can reveal a handful (or more) of fascinating mushrooms in a wide array of colors, shapes, and sizes. Check a local library or bookstore for mushroom field guides to use “out in the field” with your kids.
Learning about the growth and reproductive habits of mushrooms introduces kids to the world of fungi. Unlike other plants, mushrooms don’t drop seeds that sprout in the springtime. Instead, their fragile gills release microscopic spores that enter the soil and grow mycelium (dainty mushroom roots). Mushrooms rely on their mycelium to cross with the mycelium of spores from a different mushroom of the same species in order to reproduce – once their roots cross paths, genetic material is exchanged and a new mushroom grows. This process is very different from the usual way plants grow in nature, and it’s fascinating..
To learn more about how mushrooms grow, spend some time searching for a patch of mushrooms near home. If you’re lucky, you’ll find some that have just sprouted and have yet to burst out of their eggs. Check on your mushrooms daily, and watch as they grow (incredibly quickly) into fully developed specimens, then begin to die and rot away. Keeping a journal is a great way to track what you learn and observe – try making your own notebook, and draw the mushrooms or snap some photos to accompany your observations. Keep your findings for next year, and see if you find more species the second time around.
For edible mushroom fun, check a local farmers’ market for interesting and safe varieties. Mycoterra Farm in Westhampton grows several beautiful and delicious varieties, many of which can be found at several farmers’ markets including Williamsburg (Thursdays), Florence (Wednesday) and Northampton (Saturdays) markets. Grow-at-home mushroom kits are another way to observe (and even cook!) mushrooms, offering a DIY, hands-on mushroom experience for enthusiastic families (Some kits even yield up to two pounds of mushrooms!).
Saturday, September 28th, 2013 from 2pm-5pm – MYCOLOGY: Explore the Berkshires and learn about fall mushrooms with Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary! Adults and older students can come see a presentation on local fall mushrooms and then explore and collect some for study. This event will help you become better acquainted with local fungi and ecology. Please register in advance. 413-637-0320. 472 West Mountain Road. Lenox, MA. $$