Human beings seem to always be fascinated by things that are squishy and things that are funny shapes. Enter: the humble mushroom.
When it comes to eating them, you either love them or pick them off your pizza with disgust, but when you find one out in the world, growing out of grass or mud or a dying tree, I know you feel an overwhelming urge to poke it. You want to find out what exactly this oddly fleshy, plant-y thing is connected to and what it’s doing in the damp darkness.
In the vast wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, mushrooms and many other types of fungi thrive on the mild temperatures, frequent rain, and abundance of decomposing vegetation. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and colors, they use dead matter as fuel, they grow in fairy rings, some glow in the dark, some make you high, and some can kill you if you eat them.
The fascinating world of fungi goes a lot deeper than I, a non-mycologist and novice “mushroamer”, can tell you. There is just so much to know! I’ve done some research and tried to identify all the fungi I’ve seen in the wilderness, but these little dudes can get pretty complicated…
This odd one is found all over the world and is known for the crazy way it releases spores. As you can see in this gif, the mushroom releases a tiny waft of spores when poked with a twig. But the puffball does not rely on people with twigs to disperse its trillions of precious spore babies. Instead, it uses the rain. When a fat raindrop hits the outside of the puffball, the spores inside are pushed out through the little hole at the top. And voilà! The spores are released while the ground is wet from rain so they can float around until they find a suitable place to settle down and grow up.
Pine Cone Mushrooms (some kind of Psilocybe)
Here we have (what I think are) Pine Cone Mushrooms. They are called this because you can often find them growing out of fallen pine cones. They use all that delicious decomposing plant matter to grow and pop up all over the woods. Seen here peeking out from behind a leaf
This is the classic Alice in Wonderland mushroom that is known for its color, distinctive shape, and hallucinogenic effects. Amanita muscaria is found in many parts of the world. I found this one growing in the parking lot of Seattle’s largest public park.
Lichen is technically only part-fungus. It is a fungus/algae combo that you might find growing on tree trunks or rocks. In these photos, the top side of the lichen is bumpy and white, while the algae-covered bottom side looks like the inside of avocado skin crossed with seaweed. This hardy combo of two separate life forms is found all over the planet, sometimes looking like a crust, sometimes more like stringy filaments, sometimes, in this case, more like weird slimy leaves.
Fading Scarlet Waxy Cap
These little ones growing out of a dead tree trunk may or may not be Fading Scarlet Waxy Caps (Hygrocybe miniata).They are named for the fact that they are initially a bright scarlet color when they first emerge from whatever dead thing they are growing out of. Over time, however, their color fades and they become more and more orange until eventually the mushrooms themselves begin to decompose. If I have identified these correctly, I think it’s safe to assume that they will soon be on their way to nature’s great compost pile.
These are polypores, AKA shelf fungi, AKA bracket fungi… AKA conks. They grow horizontally out of dead or living tree trunks. They are often easy to spot and come in many different colors and styles. Artists have been known to paint or etch on large, thick shelf fungi, and it is interesting how much these look like clam shells. I found these three unique polypores within about 20 feet of each other.
Look how cute this little mushie is! It’s appropriately known as the Apricot Jelly Mushroom. Just adorable.
According to mushroomexpert.com, “It is a Jelly Fungus that looks like a Toothed Mushroom”. This may be why is it known as the Toothed Jelly Fungus. However, it is also known as the false hedgehog mushroom, the cat’s tongue mushroom, and the white jelly mushroom. What would you name this translucent little buddy?
Bird’s Nest Fungus?
This may be some type of Bird’s Nest fungus, but it may not actually be a fungus at all. The tiny squishy bits attached to this twig look like cups that Thumbelina herself would drink from. But they don’t really resemble any type of fungus that I’ve heard of… So if you have information about this mystery, please leave a comment.
Some type of Peziza
This is a very floral looking type of cup fungi – likely a variety of Peziza. They are supposedly edible, although they do not look very appetizing.
Most of these fungi were seen in Whistler’s Bend Park in Douglas County, OR. Thanks for reading about the fungus among us!