5 EASY TO IDENTIFY and WILD-LOOKING Mushrooms you Should Know this Hiking Season!
by Eli Adams, Ecotour Guide and Naturalist
As a guide for Asheville Hiking Tours, I have been successful in identifying fruiting fungi, otherwise commonly known as mushrooms, especially given their prevalence in our forests! If you are living near the Blue Ridge Mountains, and particularly our lush Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina, then you are no stranger to some of the 2,000 fungi species growing in our mountains. Local amateurs and expert naturalists alike revel in studying these alien-like inhabitants that populate our soil and woodlands. The scientific study of fungi, mycology, is a unique niche of interest which has been surging in popularity as people grow curious about the medicinal and edible wonders of our woods.
Below, I’ve gathered 5 EASY TO IDENTIFY and particularly WILD-LOOKING mushrooms which you don’t want to miss as you are hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains this season! Please note: refer to multiple field guides before attempting to forage mushrooms. This is not an official account of edible or medicinal mushrooms and should be used as a general reference.
1. Artist’s Conk
With the potential to grow up to 65 cm wide, this shelf-like mushroom can be easily spotted on distant hardwood logs, stumps, or within the wounds of living trees. The Artist’s Conk consists of a hardened upper surface appearing to be a dull brown color, fading into a blackish-brown. In western North Carolina, we will occasionally observe a reddish tone on that upper surface when matured. The thin margin, or the edge of the mushroom cap, is often a blend of white and yellow coloring. Pores are present on the underside classifying it as a polypore mushroom and interestingly enough it will leave a brown tint when bruised. Its common name is received from its natural canvas on that underside, rewarding hikers with a creative outlet on the trail.
(Source: A Field Guide to Mushrooms of the Carolinas, pg 265)
2. Witches’ Butter
If you’ve ever heard a joyful distant scream in the woods it’s probably because someone found a cluster of Witches’ Butter. This cheerful mushroom is part of a rubbery and gelatinous group known as “jelly fungi.” It’s best to go hunting after rain to find a nice hydrated Witches’ Butter because lack of moisture in the atmosphere will leave you with a shriveled and hard version of this jelly. It’s still distinguishable by its pale yellow to golden yellow or orange-yellow coloring. Other than its bright yellow hues, this mushroom has common jelly fungi characteristics like soft folded tissues and irregular lobes with a smooth and shiny exterior. Mesenterica means “resembling the middle intestine”. You can find Witches’ Butter on its own or in clusters commonly on hardwood branches, logs, and stumps. Primarily located on beech and oak trees all year around – especially in winter! Witches’ Butter is considered edible but has been described as tasting like flavorless or sauteed water – YUM!
(Source: A Field Guide to Mushrooms of the Carolinas, pg 316)
3. Dryad’s Saddle
Dryad’s Saddle, Pheasant Back, or Hawks Wing has been foraged for many years because of its nutritious qualities. Squamosus refers to the flattened reddish-brown scales displayed on top of a yellow and whitish color. Its margin is thin and lobbed, resembling somewhat of a bird’s wing. “Cer-” means honeycomb attributing to the distinguishable honeycombed-shaped pores on its underside. They are commonly found as “saprophytic fungi” on decaying hardwood stumps and logs, especially Elm trees during the spring and fall. Interestingly enough, it is also known to have a parasitic relationship with living trees as a white rot fungus. Many herbalists label this mushroom as not only edible but medicinal because of its documented antioxidant and cancer-fighting properties. Dryad’s Saddle is not usually listed as a choice edible mushroom but absolutely deserves its spot on that list.
(Source: A Field Guide to Mushrooms of the Carolinas, pg 262)
4. Old Man of the Woods
Old man of the Woods is a very easy-to-identify “bolete mushroom” that is as fascinating to look at as it is to learn about it. Strobilus refers to the resemblance of a pinecone or mass of scales which is accurate to its given genus name Strobilomyces, with myces meaning mushroom or fungus. Purplish, dark gray or black scales occupy the cottony upper cap and include a margin bordered with pieces of a gray partial veil. The white pores under the cap will bruise a reddish-brown then black color when touched. The shaggy stem is colored like the cap as well. You can find this mushroom during summer and fall, dispersed under hardwoods and mixed woods or pines. Although edible, not many people are fans of the taste and the fact that it will turn the rest of your food black
(Source: A Field Guide to Mushrooms of the Carolinas, pg 212)
5. Black Trumpets
Although this mushroom can be difficult to find amidst dirt, it is truly a treat to spot. Craterellus means “little crater or cup” which is a great description for the Black Trumpet because it displays a tubular, hollow, or vase-like structure. As a member of the chanterelle family, this mushroom produces no true gills but exhibits veinlike ridges instead. The entire top and bottom blends, with no separation from the tubular stalk extending into the cap. They are commonly found either single, scattered, or in a cluster on the ground. Black Trumpets are considered an edible choice mushroom consisting of an earthy, floral flavor profile making it an appetizing forest find. Because this mushroom can be a hard find, a great rule of thumb is to look for mossy patches in the spring through fall time. The green contrast is perfect for spotting these covert trumpets!
(Source: A Field Guide to Mushrooms of the Carolinas, pg 255)
Would you like to learn more about our local mushrooms, or ready to see some of these wild beauties in person? Come join us on a hike sometime, and the guides of Asheville Hiking Tours will show you the array of fungi and the other miraculous organisms in our Southern Appalachian Mountains!
Natural Notes is Asheville Hiking Tours’ blog about nature, history and travel in the Appalachians. Asheville Hiking Tours offers day hikes, waterfall tours, and firefly tours, guided by naturalists, in the mountains around Asheville, NC. For more info visit www.AshevilleHikingTours.com.