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Mushrooms thrive on local trails

Tom Wiesen
Tanya Wiesen/Special to the Daily Look for the "Alice in Wonderland" fly agaric mushrooms as they push their way through duff along trails in sub-alpine forests.
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Steady summer rains bring forth a plethora of mushrooms. – that’s right, the fungus is once again among us.Although the mushrooms are always present as tiny, hair-like rootlets braided throughout nutrient-rich, decaying material on the forest floor, it takes consistent moisture to bring about the fruiting body of the fungus – the part we know as a mushroom.Because the fine hair-like rootlets known as mycelium can extend for miles, it is believed that the largest, living single organism on the planet is a mushroom. Mycelium can be observed as the white cobweb material growing on a rotted log, or it is also obvious as a nearly continuous web that covers the vegetation just after the snow recedes. Unlike green plants, mushrooms lack chlorophyll, and therefore cannot make food through photosynthesis. Mushrooms glean nutrients through decaying plant matter or they may tap into root systems of plants or trees. This relationship is beneficial for the fungus and plant and is crucial to the survival of each. Fungus roots attach themselves to the roots of a host plant providing far greater surface area with which to glean nutrients. The fungus provides minerals and nutrients to the plant, and in return the plant sends sugars and carbohydrates to the growing mushroom.

Mushrooms reproduce through dust-like spores rather than seeds. Spores become air-borne and when they land in rich soil, a new mushroom can take hold. One species of mushroom that regularly catches my eye is the poisonous amanita muscaria, or the “fly agaric.” This conspicuous Alice in Wonderland-like mushroom is brilliant red with white polka dots. This mushroom was historically used in Europe to capture houseflies, by placing the skin of the mushroom cap in a bowl of milk. The flies were attracted to the milk and then poisoned. Look on the underside of the fly agaric, and you will see deep, creamy-white gills from which the spores emerge. Store bought mushrooms are also examples of gilled mushrooms.Look for a wild-looking brown, black and tan mushroom with geometric starburst patterns on top. This mushroom is known as scaly hydnum, and can grow to the size of a dinner plate. If you break off a bit of the cap of this mushroom and check out the bottom side, you will not find gills, but will find unique bristle-like teeth hanging down. A highly prized gourmet gem which is relatively common in these parts is the king bolete. King boletes have a cap that is leathery brown in color with slightly whitish margins, and often has a slightly bulbous stem.

Boletes are a grouping of mushrooms that when you look at the underside, instead of gills or teeth, you fine very fine pores, much like a foam sponge. Many boletes are edible, with some more highly prized than others. Another gourmet beauty to watch for locally is the egg-yolk-yellow, horn-like chanterelle. These elusive mushrooms lack a standard stem and cap, and instead grow from the ground like tiny champagne flutes with gill-like wrinkles running up their sides. Eating wild mushrooms can be delicious and fun if you eat the right ones. Mushrooms can also be poisonous, even deadly. If you intend to eat them, go mushroom picking with somebody who is skilled at identifying them.



Tom and Tanya Wiesen are owners of Trailwise Guides, a year-round Vail Valley guide service specializing in daily private outings in the White River National Forest. Reserve a day of personalized instruction for wilderness hiking, mountain biking, or bird watching. Improve your natural history skills with Trailwise Guides. (970) 827-5363vail colorado


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