If you’ve been in Oregon for any length of time, you’ve probably discovered mushrooms grow quite easily here.
In all of North America, there are about 10,000 fungal species identified. Approximately 10 to 20 percent of them are edible, 5 percent have medicinal properties, 20 percent will make you sick if you eat them, and 1 percent are deadly.
The only question is: do you know the difference?
Mushrooms take on many different forms and function.
Some mushrooms are capable of digesting wood. They help break bark and decomposing wood down into the primary components of forest soil.
Some mushrooms form a partnership with the roots of living trees. The mushrooms weave in and around the root system, altering the shape of the root. It then uses water and nutrients brought in by the trees, but in return helps absorb its own water and mineral supply and shares it with the tree. They form an alliance and work together to stay healthy.
Some mushrooms are edible. Not just for people, but for animals too. Squirrels, rodents, slugs, even certain types of flies rely on mushrooms for all of its sustenance.
Some mushrooms cause root disease and aren’t beneficial for the tree. They damage the root system, which ultimately can kill the tree.
Some mushrooms have nasty effects on humans. Every year mushroom poisonings are reported; fortunately, most are not fatal. Of course, it can be difficult not giving them a try. As they pop up in clusters underneath a tree, sometimes in a rainbow of colors, they’re wildly attractive and call out you to eat them.
There is no way to quickly determine which are safe and which aren’t. There is no other way than to identify what species they are; to tell an edible one from a poisonous one. And because many of them have counterparts that are almost identical, even identifying them can sometimes be a chore.
But if you know what you’re doing, the results can be a culinary delight. Here are a few of our favorites:
The chanterelles or the Pacific golden chanterelle is also known as Oregon’s state mushroom because it grows in abundance. You’ll find chanterelles grow in conifer and oak forests where there is plenty of moist, mossy growth to feed on. They like wet soil, so you’ll most likely find them after a fresh rainfall during July through October.
Chanterelles have a distinct funnel shape. You’ll find visible ridges on the top connected to a solid stem. It has a distinct yellow color from top to bottom and stands out because of its uniform color. They always grow in groups, not clusters, and you’ll find them on the ground and not near trees. Always cook them before you eat them; they’ll have a fragrant almond or apricot smell to them.
Chanterelles are ground mushrooms and are not found near the base of a tree. You’ll find something similar in a toxic Jack-o-lantern mushroom, which grows near the tree base. These are harmful to humans and should be avoided.
The oyster mushroom grows on the sides of trees. It’s one of the only carnivorous mushrooms in the world and eats small microscopic insects called nematodes. The oyster mushroom is considered a medicinal mushroom as it helps fight cholesterol by producing a chemical called lovastatin.
You’ll find oyster mushrooms along the bark of deciduous trees and beech trees. They also often act as a decomposer of wood. You’ll find them on the surface of dead hardwood trees, and are best found during autumn. They have scallop edges and are similar in shape and size to the oysters you harvest from the sea. When you pick them, they quickly grow back, meaning you can harvest them two or even three times in a season. They also have a shelf-like appearance along the sides of trees, which makes them easy to spot. And the best news is there are no poisonous look-alikes in the Pacific Northwest, which means if you find them you can harvest them and know you’re safe.
Truffles are widely hunted across the world for their tender, distinct taste. Here in Oregon, we have two for you to find: the Oregon Black Truffle and the Oregon White Truffle.
Truffles are a variety of mushrooms that grow underground. They have no prominent stem, and their spore surfaces are on the inside. Because they grow underground, they require the assistance of a dog to find them. Truffles resemble potatoes and are often about the size of a marble or a golf ball.
Think of a truffle as the fruit of the plant. The main body – the root system – is connected to the roots of trees. They are essential to provide the truffles what they need to grow and thrive. And because this process happens underground, truffles are more resilient than mushrooms when it comes to things like drought, frost, or even forest fires and other natural disasters.
The easiest way to find truffles is with a truffle dog. Truffle dogs are trained to smell truffles, and they can easily find where they are growing underground. You can also watch for cleared paths where deer find them, shifting the ground to be able to kick them out and pull them away from their roots.
The Oregon Black Truffle looks like dark pieces of coal. They have a distinctive tropical fruit or pineapple smell and are best found during the winter months.
The Oregon White Truffle has a lighter brown appearance and comes with a distinctive garlicky smell. You’ll be able to find smaller variety in the winter months, with larger selections during the spring.
Finding mushrooms throughout your garden isn’t always a bad thing. But it is important to know what to watch for. Honey fungus is a particularly dangerous mushroom that grows near root trees. You’ll find they come in a yellowish-brown color and grow in clusters at the base of your tree and around your tree’s roots. They usually have a distinct white ring around their stems and have a flat top when fully formed.
These mushrooms usually peak between late summer and early winter. They have a distinctive sweet smell, have small pale leaves, and may have early fall coloring. They are especially attracted to oak trees, but occasionally will show on birch, fruit trees, or other hedge plants.
Honey fungus attacks the root system and will eventually kill it entirely. Since the rot will be at the base, it eventually makes the tree unstable, making it a greater risk for falling.
Regular maintenance is your best course of action. You should avoid overwatering, cut away dead or diseased branches, and protect the roots from damage caused by machinery.