This story was originally published in July 2021.
Water-sprinkled ferns and grasses lined the dirt road. I breathed in the misty morning air, cool after two days of rain. Overhead, a squirrel jumped from branch to branch, shaking drops of water that fell in waves.
“Watch for fungus,” I told my dog, Juno, as we dodged a squirrel-induced spray.
I heard that new mushrooms sprout after a good rain, and I wanted to put that theory to the test.
Juno really wasn’t going to help. Her forte is finding sticks. But she was present for the walk anyway. She just had to make sure she didn’t eat any of the mushrooms I stopped to photograph along the way. Since I am not a mushroom expert, I am never sure what is toxic and what is edible.
When it comes to mushrooms, I look. I admire. But I don’t play. I leave that to experienced collectors.
As we walked downhill, away from our house, I scanned the edge of the forest that I know so well. And while he expected to find new mushrooms, he wasn’t entirely prepared for the number and variety of mushrooms that sprouted from the rotting logs overnight.
Emerging from the muddy banks of the roadside ditch, a series of chocolate-brown mushrooms caught my eye. Their trumpet-shaped caps were edged with white and fanned out over tall, thin canes. Once I crouched down to inspect them, other species of mushrooms that were growing nearby began to appear.
Large mushrooms with thick pale yellow stems and dark purple caps grew on the muddy slope. They were easy to spot, but many others were more camouflaged, or just so small they took a lot of attention to notice. Mushrooms were everywhere.
A few steps into the forest, a white mushroom was alone. It shone in the dim light of the cloudy morning. Beneath his wide cap, a frill encircled his high sock, like a skirt. “Destroying Angel?” He was asking me. There are a few mushrooms whose common names I know, and the destroying angel, the most toxic mushroom in Maine, is one of them. Exercising caution, I decided to go back and photograph the ghostly mushroom when I didn’t have Juno in tow.
For the last 10 years or so, I’ve attended wild mushroom workshops and partnered with expert pickers. I bought several mushroom field guides (and even got a couple from a generous BDN reader). At this point, I can often point to common mushrooms like chanterelles, chicken of the woods, reishi, turkey tails, and puffballs. But I’m not sure how much I’d bet on my identification skills.
Identifying fungi can be tricky. There are many similar species. I remember the lesson being driven home while foraging with mushroom enthusiast David Porter in Brooklyn a few years ago. He was sure of the groceries he was collecting, but when we got back to his kitchen, I noticed the mushroom caps were lying on pieces of paper on the counter. He explained that he was making spore tracks, which is a pattern created by powdery spores as they fall from the fruiting body of the fungus. Tracks can be used to identify certain species. Yes, mushroom identification can be that tricky.
Encouraged by the variety of mushrooms I found in my house, I decided that Juno and I needed to take a little excursion. Any forest trail would do. I just wanted to see if we could find even more variety at a different location.
So we travel to Cooper Farm, a reserve owned and managed by the Blue Hill Heritage Trust on Caterpillar Hill in Sedgwick.
The reserve’s trail network consists of three circuits that explore a field and a mossy forest. Sweating in the midday sun, I led Juno down the three paths. And although we were exhausted by the end of the nice hike, I was glad we made the trip. Dotting the forest floor were a number of colorful mushrooms that I hadn’t seen anywhere near my house.
Rich maroon mushrooms had sprouted from thick beds of moss, along with yellow-spotted caps that looked like something out of a fairy tale book. I lay down to photograph them from ground level several times, resolving to do a tick check before getting back in my vehicle. Mushroom photography involves a lot of rolling on the ground.
So after all this, I was curious: Why do mushrooms appear everywhere after a good rain? The answer turned out to be quite simple. Fungi need water to grow. In fact, most fungi require a large amount of water to grow, although some species are capable of growing in dry conditions. And did you know that there are actually fungi that can live underwater? These are the things you learn when you read college course material on the Internet.
The next time it rains, consider all the fungi that the water is nurturing. Go out and take a look. You may be surprised at what emerges from the forest floor.