It’s winter in the northwest. The sun hasn’t made an appearance in days. Rain lulls you to sleep and greets you in the dark morning. For most of us it’s the season for retreat and rest, hot chocolate and fuzzy socks. But for one incredible type of creature, it’s an explosive time of growth and new life. It’s mushroom season!
Most of us have an understandable fear of mushrooms. Sometimes they’re slimy and smelly, and a few have powerful, dangerous toxins. But when you dig into the life history of our fungal friends, you’ll learn how incredible and beautiful this secret world can be.
Now is the perfect time to go on a mushroom hunt, so grab your rain gear, a bag, and a hand lens or magnifying glass, and get outside! Children are especially drawn to mystery, and can be very curious about mushrooms. What is this thing? It doesn’t look like anything else in our yard. Why does it feel this way? Why did it grow all of a sudden? Encourage that exploration! Scientists are often just as mystified as your child, and we still have much to learn about the life of mushrooms. Maybe your child will unlock another amazing secret about fungus.
My favorite fungus fact is that they are genetically closer animals than plants! That’s right, our closest common ancestor was ancient algae. And like people, a mushroom cannot photosynthesize or create its own energy. It has to eat, just like you and me. That’s why it prefers the damp, decayed vegetation of winter: It’s easier to digest.
When you see a mushroom, dig it up gently. You might find white threads called mycelium attached at the base. These are like roots, leeching food out of the ground and searching for other favorable spots where they might send up a “fruit”, the part of the mushrooms we can see.
Some mushrooms have beautiful, colorful caps. Others are dull, or even downright ugly. Some are eaten by squirrels and slugs; others are avoided by all. Here are some of the mushrooms sprouting near the grounds of KidsQuest this winter. Next time you’re in the neighborhood, look under trees and shrubs, and admire the mysterious world of mushrooms.
Hard to believe, but these two mushrooms are the same species They start out firm, and gradually dissolve into slimy black goo! They are called Shaggy Manes at their firm stage and Inky Caps afterward.
This mushroom, growing along the Chickadee Trail, it is called a Waxy Cap. Mulch is a great habitat for mushrooms, because they can digest the rotting wood.
Contributed by Daniela Garvue