Mushroom Foraging in the Fall

Understanding the dos and don'ts of fall mushroom foraging is key to enjoying the rewards of harvesting them.

| October/November 1991

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    Gary Davenport, nephew of the author, holds a giants puffball (Calvatia gigantea), which sometimes grows to diamaters larger than a basketball
    PHOTO: LES DAVENPORT
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    Pear-shaped puffballs (Lycoperdon pyriforme) are approximately 1 inch in diameter and grow in clusters on decaying wood.
    LES DAVENPORT
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    The fried-chicken mushroom (Lyophyllum decastes): Enjoy harvesting it, but beware of look-alikes.
    LES DAVENPORT
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    The hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa) often grows In the some location year after year.
    LES DAVENPORT
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    Some coral fungus family members are edible; others cause gastric upset. Consult a field guide before you forage.
    LES DAVENPORT
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    The oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) is “choice” for eating. It grows from deciduous trees.
    LES DAVENPORT
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    These aging honey mushrooms (Armillariella mellea) are great late-year replacements for the early-spring morel.
    PHOTO: LES DAVENPORT
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    The chicken mushroom (Laetiporus sulphurous) is one of the most prized among veteran mushroomers.
    LES DAVENPORT
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    Believe It or not, even this jelly leaf fungus (Tremella foliacea) is edible.
    LES DAVENPORT
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    The turkey-tail mushroom (Trametes versicolor) is also a member of the polypore family. Mind you, it's nonedible.
    LES DAVENPORT
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    Some oyster mushrooms grow from a stublike stalk when coming up out of old, decaying wood.
    PHOTO: LES DAVENPORT

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Autumn is a time of change in the woodlands. The vivid green hues of summer fade into the auburn shades of fall as plant life in the great outdoors prepares for a long winter's sleep.

During this period of transition, many who enjoy harvesting Mother Nature's abundant vintages miss one of nature's finest bounties — the fall mushrooms. Learn to distinguish a few choice edible fungus, and hours of  mushroom foraging enjoyment can be added to your autumnal calendar.

Understanding the dos and don'ts of fall mushroom foraging is key to enjoying the rewards of harvesting the mushrooms. As in all outdoor ventures, a novice should start slowly and gain confidence before taking on the role of a veteran.

The first and foremost rule when mushroom foraging is to get to know just a few species — and get to know them well. To achieve this, purchase a field guide to North American mushrooms. Most bookstores stock one or can quickly order it. Though local libraries typically stock several, buying your own copy is a wise investment. Pocket-size editions with color photos are easily carried and help assure positive identification. Never be without it in the fall woods.



A quality guide should contain the following species subheadings: description, edibility, season, habitat, range and look-alikes. Each category lists attributes that help even the veteran mushroom hunter to learn more about North American fungi.

Personal Favorites

Fall mushrooms have many different flavors and textures. The majority of edible varieties have nicknames that mimic their characteristics, much like the spring morel, which is dubbed the “sponge” mushroom. Its colors can blend with the drab shades of dead bark or stand out like the colors of Christmas. Harvesting mushrooms for the dinner table while hiking the woodlands enhances the appreciation of forest ecology. Here are some of my personal favorites.






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