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Edible and non-edible mushrooms and lichens

For most people, the world of mushrooms is quite unknown. They may be familiar about the plants and animals of their area but know very little about the fungi and mushrooms.

We have always been told to be careful with mushrooms and its best to just leave them alone.

This is too bad, although there are many poisonous mushrooms and even some that kill, for the most part, most mushrooms are harmless.

Some of our local mushrooms are quite edible and some are considered the best mushrooms in the world.

The Edible Mushrooms

Chanterelle Mushroom

           Two types of chanterelles, the yellow chanterelle  and the white chanterelle, are harvested on Vancouver Island. These species commonly occur in mature forests of Douglas fir or hemlock.

The yellow chanterelle is harvested all over Vancouver Island. Harvesting of yellow chanterelles begins in September and continues until November or December on both Vancouver Island and the south coast.

White chanterelles are also harvested from the Vancouver Island region. Harvesting of white chanterelles begins in the early fall and continues until the first heavy frosts. When dried, the white chanterelle turns yellow. Looking a lot like yellow ones.

The texture of the Chanterelle is tender and yet it doesn’t fall apart as easily as other mushrooms. It can hold its own decently when tossed, stirred, added to soups or sautéed.  Chanterelles are at their best when fried, covered in garlic butter and served with fresh crab. The flavor of chanterelles is spicy with a slight  apricot  flavor.

This one of the most popular mushrooms that are harvested on the Island, there is quite a large commercial harvest on the Island, the mushrooms are shipped fresh to Europe where they sell for a premium price.

My family harvests them early in the fall and we dehydrate them, store in bags and freeze. Then we can eat them year round.

Coral Mushroom

Coral mushrooms are found in the late summer and fall. We find them at higher elevations here on Vancouver Island. They are most common in wooded areas, especially conifer forests, and are usually found on the ground or on stumps and fallen logs. Some grow in open fields.

Most are shaped like the ocean coral they are named after, with groups of stems that grow upward and branch out. Some, however, are shaped like upright worms, forks or clubs. Some varieties can be shaped like a cauliflower or lettuce head.
The ones in these photos are shaped like cauliflowers and are the ones we harvest up in the mountains of the Island. Most conifer coral mushrooms are white to off white in color.

The non-edible Mushrooms

Black Cup Fungi

   Black cup fungi is found at higher elevations on Vancouver Island. It is native to western North America and Asia. It is a non edible mushroom species but not fatal if eaten. The black cup fungus was first described in 1928 as a unique fungi growing on conifer wood debris. It begins development under snow and reaches maturity as the snow melts.

It reaches the visible fruiting stage in late July to early September. There are several ways to identify the black cup fungus in its natural setting.

 Black cup fungus grows  in scattered groups, attached to buried woody debris. They often appear in areas where snow is melting in early summer. They are easily overlooked without the white snowy background.

Examine the goblet-shaped, shallow, cup shaped fungi. Its body is 1 cm to 3 cm  wide on a stem 1 to 4 cm long. The stem is attached to mycelium, a mass of branching, thread like filament structures that acts as a root system. The cup shaped fungi that grow from this structure are the fruiting bodies.

Identify the fungus by its distinctive dark brown or black color. The interior is Black and the exterior is a dark brown with a orange coloration on the lip of the cup and outer wall. It is smooth when young, becoming wrinkled with age or drying. The cup edge is slightly wavy and curves inward, flaring out with age. Its external surface is covered with delicate brownish black hairs. The internal surface contains the spore-producing tissue layer.

Witches Cap

Commonly known as the Witches Cap, they are also called Blackening Waxcap mushrooms, this is one of several species whose caps turn black with age. The witches Cap can be seen in lines along roadsides where the grass is well shaded, moist and mossy.

This mushroom is quite beautiful when seen in bright sunshine, these conical waxcap fungi can look just as good in wet weather, as they stand out brightly against the green background of their grassy habitats.

Witches Cap can be red, orange, yellow and jet black. Sometimes you will see all of these colors in a group and occasionally on a single mushroom. The shapes of the caps are sometimes conical while some become almost flat.

The beauty of these little mushrooms is fleeting, as they will soon turn black all over. If you touch the cap, gills or stem they soon turn black. Witches caps continue to drop spores even when entirely blackened.

The cap is from 4 to 7cm in diameter; varying from an initial light orange to orange red, often paler at the edge. The surface is slimy in damp weather but in dry weather it becomes dry and silky. The caps rarely open out fully and after fruiting, they soon turn black, at first in patches but eventually they blacken all over. Even when blackened the caps of these fungi remain quite shiny. The gills are at first a pale lemon yellow, becoming more orange and then blackening as the rest of the mushroom changes color.

The stem is 5 to 8 mm in diameter and 4 to 8 cm tall. The stem is a yellow with a scarlet tinge color near the cap but remaining much paler at the base, the stem is full, rather than hollow, and the stem flesh is initially white but quickly turns black when cut. Eventually, the whole stem blackens from the top downwards. The spore print is White.

Witches Hat mushrooms have long been considered to be saprobic on the dead roots of grasses and other grassland plants, but it is now considered likely that there is some kind of mutual relationship between waxcaps and mosses.

The Witches Hat is a fairly common mushroom on Vancouver Island and can be found in most areas, it is also found over much of North America and Europe as well.

The Lichens

Freckle Pelt

Freckle Pelt is a leaf lichen, the leaves (lobes) are loosely attached and are 2 to 5 cm wide. They are dull grayish green when dry but turn bright green when wet. You will see scattered warts on them. The lower surface sometimes has broad, cotton like, inconspicuous veins, that darken inward from the tips of the lobes.

You can see them growing on moss, humus, decaying logs, and rocks, usualy in forested areas, they are very common and widespread across Vancouver Island, they are a northern plant.

 The brown to black dots on the upper surface of freckle pelt contain small colonies of cyanobacteria, which supply the lichen with nitrogen. These organisms can extract nitrogen from the air and supply this nutrient to the lichen fungi and its green algae partner. 

Caribou actively forage for this lichen in the winter months. Swedish peasants at one time, believed that miliary fever (a fever that was epidemic in the 15th and 16th centuries and characterized by profuse sweating and high mortality) could be cured by boiling Freckle Pelt and then applying the solution to the sores. Freckle pelt lichen was also boiled to make a wash for treating chapped skin on adults feet and babies bottoms.

Pincushion Sunburst  This is a very pretty lichen that grows all over Vancouver Island The thallus is yellow in color, small and rosette shaped with abundant apothecia. It is usualy in the range of 0.5cm to 2.5cm in diameter. The lobes are convex and pale greenish at the margins. The lobes are branched and narrow, they widen towards the apex reaching a width of 1 mm. The under surface is white with short attachment structures. Overall it  is brittle to the touch.
The apothecia are characteristically abundant and range widely in size from 0.5mm to 4.5mm in diameter. They are usualy shield shaped. The disc typically stays very orange. Locally common on fences and in parks and gardens. Found on dead and living twigs and in the axils of wide spreading branches, quite often found on fruit trees and hardwoods. Shaded specimens take on a light yellow hue. The small yellow tightly knit clusters of apothecia help in its identification. Its latin name is Xanthoria polycarpa.