Colorado’s Thriving Mushroom Community

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Appearing next to wildflowers, near creek beds, and scattered across the prairies of Colorado’s forests are a rainbow variety of mushrooms, which a growing number of foragers are taking advantage of.

Whether foragers are gathering some of Colorado’s most prized edible species or simply exploring to identify and learn, the Colorado Mycological Society has seen an increase in people signing up for guided forays and club meetings.

“Most of the additions (of new members to the club) have been in the last few years,” former CMS president Ed Lubow said. “The majority are there because they want to find something they can take home and eat.”

Current CMS membership is over 1,000, Lubow said, adding that a The huge draw has been the ability to pick mushrooms from the wild that would be expensive to buy at a grocery store, such as porcini mushrooms, chanterelle mushrooms, morels and matsutake.

For anyone just starting out, Lubow highly recommends taking a foray led by a mycological society to learn the basics of hunting and identification, which is essential for gathering to eat. He also recommends first-time foragers invest in a regional book on mushroom and fungus species.

“There are a number of local mycological societies,” he said. “Go join one because you’ll be surrounded by people with the same interest and with more experience, so you’ll learn relatively quickly. The #1 rule for eating is when in doubt, throw it out.

Beyond culinary foragers, Lubow said he’s also seen increased interest from hikers and outdoor enthusiasts who like to find more ways to connect with nature and learn more about their lives. environment.

Fungi are integral to the health of forests, breaking down nutrients in the soil for plants and trees to use.

“What you find out pretty quickly is that if you go out there thinking you’re going to find morels, except on a rare day of luck, you’re not going to be successful, so you start to realize that you pass a lot of mushrooms,” Lubow said. “For me, it’s become, even the ones I can’t eat are kind of interesting.”

Fortunately for pickers, there is no shortage of wild mushrooms in Colorado. From South San Juan to the Flat Tops of Steamboat Springs, there’s bound to be a bounty.

However, public lands have different requirements for mushroom foragers. National and state parks do not allow foraging, while national forests generally require a permit. Depending on the ranger district, some permits are free and others can cost around $20 per year.

Even the city parks of the Front Range are home to mushroom finds, though finding something worth eating is less likely.

Some mushrooms in urban areas may be of interest because they are not local, but accidentally introduced, Lubow said.

Lubow cautioned that it is still the foragers’ responsibility to know what lands they are on and the rules of the land.

The main mushroom season in Colorado runs from mid-July to late September, although some species also thrive outside of these months. Altitude also plays a role in determining which species foragers are likely to find.

“For Colorado, the key thing is humidity,” Lubow said of ideal conditions for mushrooms.

Equipment for picking mushrooms includes a knife to cut stems from the ground or trees, a brush to clean dirt, and a structured container, such as a basket, cardboard box, or mesh bag. Plastic is not recommended as it can accelerate deterioration.

Once on the trail, focus on the forest floor and tree trunks and you’ll probably soon notice fungus under brush, at the base of aspens, or on a fallen log. If you are looking for food in a more urban or popular area, be sure to avoid gathering where there is dog poo or pesticides or herbicides being used.

Beware that some of the prettiest mushrooms, like the red-and-white-spotted amanita muscaria, can be poisonous if ingested.

There are a number of important parts of the mushroom to examine in order to identify it, according to Vera Stuckey Evenson of Mushrooms of the Rocky Mountain Region. First, observe the environment, since certain species are associated with certain trees and whether it grows in the ground or on bark will help define it.

On the mushroom itself, look at the cap for colors and textures; examine under the cap to see if it has gills, teeth or pores; check the stem for coloring or patterns; and smell it for all the distinctive smells. Also, be sure to remove the base of the mushroom from the ground, which can also be a useful feature.

For species that look alike, sometimes a spore print, where the mushroom cap is removed and placed on paper to capture falling spores, or chemical dyes, which react with some species, are needed for positive identification.

Unlike picking flowers, picking mushrooms does not harm the mushrooms since mushrooms are the fruits of the larger mycelium, or root structure. Picking can also help spread mushroom spores.

Even so, foragers are often encouraged to harvest only what they plan to use, and Colorado’s national forests require a specific permit for commercial collection. Lubow also likes to set high standards for picking the mushrooms he plans to eat.

Conditions such as browning or softening, as well as insect tunnels, are signs that a fungus is past its peak.

“If you didn’t buy a fruit in the same condition at your grocery store, don’t eat it,” Lubow said.

For those lucky enough to collect prime edibles, Lubow again recommends turning to local mycological societies for recipes and cooking tips.

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