By Patricia Simpson
How is everyone enjoying the rainy season? I know I am. Water is life and it’s very apparent during a rainy season, especially in our Mediterranean climate landscape. Many things are thriving: weeds abound, insects emerge in numbers, and mushrooms of all sorts pop out of the ground. Contrary to common belief, a mushroom is not a vegetable. It belongs to its own phylum: basidiomycete fungi (Basidiomycota).
To grow, mushrooms need decaying matter on which they feed and lots of moisture. In fact, water is about 92 percent of a mushroom’s composition. Mushrooms first develop underground. That underground system is called mycelium. What we see emerging on the surface is the fruiting body, often composed of a stem and a cap. In many mushrooms, under the cap are gills, which harbor the spores. When the fruit or mushroom gets to maturity, the spores will fall to the ground and when moisture comes around again, they will form new mycelium underground. And the cycle continues.
Mushrooms have delighted tummies for ages, but they have also sickened or killed many. You should never consume a wild mushroom unless the identity has been confirmed and its edibility verified. For some mushrooms, such as the golden milkcap (Lactarius alnicola) seen in this observation on iNaturalist by ctrubo at bit.ly/2H6nwZy, the nasty taste alone is a deterrent to consumption.
Please note that it is illegal to harvest mushrooms on many public lands and others may require gathering permits. While we are enjoying the rain, grab your camera, snap photos of fungi you encounter and post on iNaturalist!
— Patricia Simpson is a trail guide at Mission Trails Regional Park.