Monday, January 13, 2014

Foraging and Mushroom Observing in Winter

White pine

New England weather in early winter can be quite a roller coaster of ups and downs, snow one week, then mid 50's the week after, rain and polar cold winds with a mix of sunshine. We have five more months before any scheduled mushroom forays with the mushroom club, and the fresh wild food foraging can be scarce. Today was one of the sunshine filled 50 degree days, so I ventured out to a local park here in Norwich for some fresh air and to have a peek around. I only had my cell phone with me, so the photos may not be the best.

I found a few ascomycetes, a family of fungus that you might not recognize as a "mushroom" because of their shape. Ascos are usually small and often grow on decaying wood. They can come in many colors, and perhaps the most famous (and the tastiest!) is the morel. Ascomycetes are distinguished from basidiomycetes by how their spores are dispersed. We often use a jeweler's loupe to view the small features of ascos.

Ascocoryne sarcoides-purple cups

Exidia recisa (brown jelly) and Hypoxylon frangiforme (black bumps)

Bisporella citrina-yellow discs

I also came across several parasitic ascos, Elaphocordyceps sp. They are parasitic on an underground elaphomyces truffle, which is not considered edible. The ground is still a bit frozen. so I did not dig up the truffle for observation.

Elaphocordyceps sp. growing from an underground truffle
 Next were some polypore bracket fungi. They are often wood decayers and can completely cover the trunk of dead or dying trees. They help break down the organic matter back into soil, and are great recyclers of dead wood. Turkey tails are very common and can come in several color combinations, but these blue ones are some of my favorite. The maze polypore is names for Daedalus and the maze he created to hold the minotaur in Greek mythology.

Trametes versicolor- turkey tails

Daedaleopsis confragosa- maze polypore
Partridge berry
There are still a few edible berries to be found in the area, although the birds and deer will be looking for them too. Partridge berries (Mitchella repens) are pretty tasteless, but pretty to find. Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) prefers a pine forest, and the berries will persist throughout the winter. The flavor of the wintergreen berries are intensely wintergreen, and make a great trailside nibble. White pine (Pinus strobus) needles can be brewed into a refreshing tea filled with more nutritionally available vitamin C than an orange and are very common and abundant in Connecticut.


I am happy I was able to take advantage of this mild January day. I guess I'll keep an eye on the weather and hope for a few more mild breaks throughout the winter for another adventure and hunt in our local woods.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year's Day, 2014

We found ourselves home this holiday season, Robert off from work, and Gillian off from school, and lots of ants in our pants. We are usually traveling during this time of year, but due to some ticketing restrictions, we spent 12 days in Hawaii at the end of November, finding ourselves without travel plans for December's end. Connecticut's weather in November/December can be very variable year-to-year. Sometimes we are accumulating snow days and spending time making snow shelters, other times we can still be out hiking in the forests and finding growing green plants and fungi. The end of 2013 has been chilly, but snow-less, stunting growth but keeping the trails clear for exhilarating and red-cheeked hiking wearing many layers.

Partridge Berry

We hiked in a small section of the Mohegan State Forest in Scotland, CT on New Year's Eve, finding very little in the way of edibles or fungi, but scouting a fantastic oak and mixed forest near our home. There was some Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) berries left, and we chewed the somewhat dry berries for an easy sour cherry-like taste, spitting out the seeds and skin. We also ran across plenty of invasive Rosa rugosa rosehips, too small to bother with, but still edible and a potential source of vitamin C, and a few partridge berries (Mitchella repens). There was a small, brisk running stream that emptied into a larger swamp that supported a small population of cattails (Typha sp). We hiked for about a mile, encountering some shagbark hickories (Carya ovata) and lots of white and red oaks (Quercus sp), potential future sites for nut collection.

On New Year's Day we headed over to Ft. Shantok Park in Montville, CT. We had noticed plenty of oaks and some chestnut trees earlier in the fall. All of the nuts, both acorns and chestnuts, were long gone, leaving plenty of squirrel caches of empty husks behind. We did find a few edible wild enoki mushrooms (Flammulina velutipes) bunches, along with some inedible Trametes species. A few bits of fresh chickweed (Stellaria media) peeked out from beneath an insulating layer of leaves, making a quick snack. It has a tender crunch and a taste of corn silk.

Our New Year's Day ended with some time on the playground, then an evening watching movies, in anticipation of a potential snow storm for January 2nd. We all enjoyed our final forage of 2013 and our first forage of 2014, and look forward to morel/ramps season this spring, followed by abundant harvests in our home state of Connecticut.