Monday, February 6, 2012

Shrooming! Fascination without the Hallucination

Before I go on, it is important to understand that this blog is in no way a resource for learning how to identify mushrooms. I am a novice who finds identifying fungus intriguing and challenging.
As an Interpretive Park Ranger at Saluda Shoals Park, I am constantly outdoors and always on the lookout for wildlife in our park. Recently, while exploring just over an acre, I found four different fungi species. One species is a multi-colored mushroom with polka dots. This species of fungi usually appears at the base of pine trees and is poisonous. Mushrooms like this fascinate and transport children to a fairy tale world like Alice in Wonderland, with disappearing cats and plants larger than life. For young children, finding and picking these brightly colored mushrooms is a great temptation. Mushrooms in the wild should not be harvested unless you know the differences between poisonous and non poisonous species. Certain fungi, however, are adept at disguising themselves – they are accomplished mimics. Unlike animals that use mimicry for defense, fungi mimicry can be used to assist with spore dispersal or to circumvent host defenses.

What is the difference between Mushrooms and toadstools? As it turns out, mushrooms refer only to members of the genus Agaricus. These are the cultivated white button mushrooms you would typically see in the grocery store. Toadstools on the other hand are any fungi with a cap and stem which appears different from Agaricus. Toadstools include other non-mushroom forms of fungi such as puffballs, earthstars, and coral fungi.

In the Park, we have fungi with many different shapes, colors, textures, designs, sizes and even smells. The shelf fungi that we found are almost two feet wide.

Visit Saluda Shoals Park and make your own fungi discoveries. Bring a fungi identification book and be an expert before you forage, or just enjoy the beauty of the fungi you find.

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