The Magic of Fall Fungi

My backyard smells like a rotten mushroom.  Mushrooms emerge in abundance when heavy rains follow a dry spell.  After a relatively dry July, almost 9  inches of rain fell in my yard this August, according to data from my rain guage.  A great variety of fungi live in the soil here.  They exist as web-like filaments underground.  Fungi filaments can be many square miles in extent.  Excessive moisture following long dormant periods cause the underground filaments to produce above ground fruiting bodies visible as mushrooms.  The mushrooms eventually spawn spores that spread via wind or in animal feces.  Below are some photos of the diversity of fungi I’ve found growing in my yard this past month.

Yellow house plant mushroom sharing space with a fig tree in a pot.  It’s toxic but scientists don’t know how poisonous it is–its toxicity has never been studied.

A whole colony of these mushrooms are growing on decaying vegetation in my backyard.  I think it’s a species from the Russula genus.  Emetic russula is poisonous.  I have seen squirrels eating this kind of mushroom but that does not mean it’s safe for human consumption.

I think this is the same species as the above photo but it’s growing in my front yard at least 60 feet from the other one, demonstating just how large fungi colonies can be.  Note the mold–fungus growing on fungus.

Artist’s fungus (Ganoderma applanatum) growing on a log I innoculated with shitake mushroom spawn.  The shitakes failed (so far), but artist’s fungus is thriving here.

I have no idea what species of mushroom this one is. 

This is a common puffball, I think.  Euell Gibbons claimed all young white puffballs are edible.  Poison puffball is black.

This mushroom looks like a mole’s ass.  I think that’s what I’ll call it–mole’s ass fungus.  I found nothing like it in any mushroom field guide nor on google images.

A big brown mushroom that again I can not identify.  Maybe there’s a mycologist out there who can help.  After a few days it turned to mush and smelled like liver.

Newly emerged unidentified white mushrooms.

There is no telling how old some of these fungi colonies are.  If as I suspect, my lot was never plowed but was instead used as a pasture because the soil is poor, these colonies might date to the Pleistocene.  Fungi help decompose organic matter, and they form symbiotic relationships with living plants.  The underground mycelium act as sponges absorbing nutrients and moisture, making these available for plant roots.  In return the plants provide fungi with sugar and nutrients produced by photosynthesis. 

Northern flying squirrels and red backed voles help spread fungi spore throughout forests where they range.  Both of these species ranged as far south as central Georgia during the Ice Ages.  A majority of their diet consists of fungi which they spread in their feces.  Deer also spread fungi spores.  The rodent and deer scat provides a perfect environment for the spores.  Scat has yeast, bacteria, and the properties of anti-freeze that fungi spores need to stay alive.

Northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus).  Southern flying squirrels (Glaucomys volans) eat the same foods as northern flying squirrels but the quantities differ.  The former eat a greater amount of fungi, including underground truffles, while the latter eat more nuts and acorns.  Northern flying squirrels used to range as far south as central Georgia during the Ice Age, but their range is retreating even today due to global warming.  Squirrels help spread fungi spawn.

I’d never dare eat a wild mushroom.  Many species are dangerously toxic.  I’ve picked up some, though, and discovered they have a delicious aroma.  Later, I read that poisonous mushrooms shouldn’t even be handled.  Dried porcini mushrooms sold in most grocery stores are a perfectly safe substitute for wild mushrooms because they have the intense flavor gourmets seek when they go looking for edible wild mushrooms.  I have more than 1 cookbook in which the author claims all puffballs are edible, but there is a species known as poison puffball, so don’t believe something is true just because it is printed in a book.

I did ingest hallucinogenic mushrooms when I was a college student some 30 years ago.  I worked a construction job for a day, and the contractor offered me money or a bag of mushrooms.  I chose the latter.  Among heads, they’re called “magic mushrooms” but in the south they’re commonly known as “shroon.” 

These look like the hallucinogenic mushrooms I ingested in college.  I did not find these growing in my yard.

The psychoactive chemical compound in magic mushrooms is psilocybin.  Over 190 species of fungi have psilocybin.  The effect is intense, more intense than LSD which is an extract of mold–another fungus.  However, a mushroom high dissipates pleasantly like a marijuana high.  An LSD high (or trip) is more like a plateau that does not dissipate, but instead drops the user like a sack of potatoes when it wears off.  LSD is exhausting and unforgiving.  I remember being on LSD and just wanting to be able to think normally again, but all I could do was wait for it to wear off.  Anti-drug propaganda films shown in high school health classes depict LSD flashbacks occurring years after a user took the drug but this is nonsense.  I think what they’re referring to is what happens near the end of a trip when the drug wears off completely, then briefly kicks in again, so that a user is in and out.  The user can wrongly assume it’s ok to drive before the drug is completely finished with them.  I knew a couple of guys who totaled their cars while on LSD, but thankfully did not suffer any injuries.

I remember on one occasion I shared my construction job mushrooms with a friend.  The trip got so intense I became nervous and could no longer continue to sit and drink beer with him in our usual fellowship.  I abandoned him and went to bed early, but calmed down enough to rejoin him, maybe 20 minutes later.  We looked at an Amazing Spiderman comic book–spidey’s second encounter with the lizard.  This issue was particularly colorful to a person under the influence of “shroon.”

I’ve retired from using all hard drugs, including liquor, but I still on occasion drink moderate amounts of beer or wine, and if I had a chance would still smoke marijuana.

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