(written before it stopped raining for 2 weeks!.. please let me know if there are mistakes, especially with the taxonomy )
The rains have been kind. Some areas of town are seemingly carpeted with chanterelle buttons which will be ready for harvest any day now. This week I would like to mention taxonomy, the technique of naming biological organisms for identification and classification. In the mycological world (the world of fungi), the classification of a species can change from one year to the next- a speed at which amateur foragers such as myself find difficult to keep up with. Mushroom names may be different from book to book depending upon the year of publication, be careful. For example, last week’s article mentioned Coprinellus Mycaceus, which appears to be the current name of the species, while all my books list it as Coprinus Mycaceus.
Mushrooms are identified using a system of two Latin names. The first word of the name specifies the genus. The second word identifies the exact species. An example of an easy to identify mushroom genus would be Amanita. In general, Amanitas have a large bulbous base, gills, white spores, and a veil. There is a large variety within the genus Amanita, from the delectable Amanita caesarea to the deadly Amanita bisporigera. Bisporigera means two spored Amanita, based upon specifics of the mushroom’s reproductive system. Amanita caesarea is Caesars’s mushroom. This variety was highly regarded by the Romans, and stories I have heard say that any of this choice edible found was to be saved for the Caesars. Our local variety of the Caesar mushroom is actually named Amanita jacksonii. To the untrained forager, it looks nearly identical in size and shape to the Destroying Angel, but has different coloration.
The most common Amanita along the edge of our roads and under pine trees is Amanita muscaria var. formosa, also known as the yellow fly agaric. This may be our most easy to spot local species. It is toxic! Death from ingestion is rare for humans, but nearly certain for house pets. This species grows along the edges of many roads throughout town and our pets seemingly k
now to stay away from them. The yellow fly agaric is a very large, yellow, and white mushroom with white scales on top of its yellow cap. The cap can be the size of a dinner plate! The stem, or stipe of the mushroom is usually six to ten inches tall, and sprouts from a bulb at the base.
Not found locally, the red fly agaric has been used for religious purposes by shaman for millennia. Scandinavian reindeer herders would feed Amanita muscaria to their reindeer, collect the urine, boil it down and drink it. That is not exactly my cup of tea! Did you ever wonder where the story of Santa, little elves, and flying reindeer got its root? Try an internet search for “fly agaric reindeer” to learn more about the fascinating mythology surrounding this red variety.
You should not attempt to identify and eat any species without being certain as to what it is, especially an Amanita! While I do now make omelets with Caesar’s mushrooms and white truffle oil, it took me years before I had the confidence to eat any Amanita. They are the first mushroom genus you should learn to identify, as they are one of the most dangerous in our woods.
. In the words from a poster I saw in a Vermont state park this weekend, “Have fungi, be safe!”