Thursday, August 13, 2009

Orange pinwheels

Ferns aren’t the only plant that are happy on Roundtop this summer. With all the rain (more last night, more later today), the mushrooms and fungus are doing extra well, too. Today’s photo is of the cutely named orange pinwheel mushroom.

Pinwheels come is several colors, including white, pink and rusty. All are tiny members of the marasimus family. I haven’t been able to find much information about them. Edibility is listed in several places as "unknown," which leads me to translate this into not yet being able to find anyone who is brave enough to try one. I don’t blame people for that, given how poisonous so many mushrooms are.

They seem to range between Canada and the Carolinas, but information about how common they are within that range is lacking. They appear from July through October and are considered to play a vital role in breaking down the litter layer, especially in the oak-hickory woods of eastern North America, which of course fits Roundtop perfectly. This plant continues its work even during hot and dry years, so perhaps that explains why it is suddenly so numerous in a season that has been cooler and wetter than typical. One expert helpfully reported 60+ species in the family and to "not expect to identify the species."

Another interesting note is that during dry seasons, the mushrooms simply shrivel up and wait. Apparently, if you pick one then and plop it into water, it will soon revive and be ready to go to work on that leaf litter again pretty soon.

For me, finding out about the mushroom is fun but kind of non-essential. I just appreciate occasionally seeing something that isn’t green in the middle of the summer forest.


Squirrel said...

I agree with you about the Fern Guides. I am using Petersons now but it is not always easy. There just isn't a whole lot of difference between some of the species. I'm lucky if I learn one a year. But I keep trying.

Thanks for the mushroom post. I had no idea you could revive those little pinwheels. There are so many wonderful and interesting things to learn as we explore the Appalachian and other forests.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

I never knew you could revive those little mushrooms, either. That's kind of neat!

A friend-of-a-friend heads up the botanical sciences department at a big university, he's a world-class mycologist, author of a dozen books on mushrooms and fungi, speaks on the subject, and collects mushrooms all over the globe. A few years ago we sat around a cabin in eastern Kentucky talking about edible mushrooms. I regularly eat about a half-dozen species (not counting the different morels which anyone can quickly learn to easily recognize) while this fellow said he eats about 300 different mushrooms gathered from forests and fields in the U.S.

When I bemoaned missing out on all those mushrooms I didn't know, he grinned and gave me this bit of advice: "Don't worry about trying to figure out which of the edible ones you're not eating—which taste the best, what they look like, where they're found—and then going out and gathering yourself a mess. I can tell you for a fact they'll likely taste awful or at least bland, like fried cardboard. You're already picking all but one or two of the best-tasting ones, and the ones you're missing aren't found in this end of the country. Don't confuse edible with delicious. An old sock is edible, so's a wad of oak leaves. Disgusting, but edible. Take it from the man who knows…most edible mushrooms taste like ****!"

Carolyn H said...

Squirrel: I think all of us fern-deprived folks should band together and write our own fern guide. We'd write it for what we think is important about fern ID, not what the fern geeks think.

Griz: Whew, that's good to know. Edible doesn't mean good. I guess that's why people can eat bugs for survival but it's not the kind of thing you'd cook up at home.

Carolyn H.