Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Some kind of weird fungus

Several times a year, I find a weird mushroom in my flower bed. Maybe it's a toadstool. Whichever it is, its ability to sneak in and hide in its environment holds endless fascination for me. Maybe I need to get out more.

Mystery fungus in its original form.

Mystery fungus after I have smashed it (see shoeprint). It now looks like ordinary dirt. Same color and everything. Except that now there are a whole lot of spores floating around my front yard.
So what is this fascinating fungus? There are mycologists out there who study this sort of thing. Mycology is that branch of biology concerned with the study of fungi. And we all know that the fungus is among us in more forms than merely mushrooms and toadstools. There are also truffles, molds (including the one living in my shower), lichen, yeasts, and of course, plant pathogens and medically important fungi, according to the Mycological Society of America (est. 1932). 

In identifying whether something is a mushroom or toadstool, there are several definitions floating out there in the sporosphere. One definition says that mushrooms are safe to eat and toadstools are unsafe to eat. WRONG. Either can be edible or poisonous, and you should never ever eat or even harvest a mushroom/toadstool without a trained myco-expert along to give the OK. That is my disclaimer.

The Gulf States Mycological Society has an Internet presence at www.gsmyco.org/home.html . Evidently, the Gulf Coast region of the United States -- Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida -- has an "outstanding variety" of fungi and mushrooms, and a number of previously unnamed versions have been identified within the region during fungus forays and subsequent scientific papers and general enthusiasm throughout the both the professional and amateur realms of fungal study.  

According to Wikipedia, that free online encyclopedia that has 4.5 million articles and counting (and that's just in the English language), people who collect mushrooms for consumption are known as mycophagists, and the act of collecting them is known as -- get this -- mushroom hunting or simply mushrooming.

Years ago, I wrote a newspaper story about the mushroom farm in Madisonville, Texas. At that time it was Dole. Now it is Monterey Mushrooms. At the time, I walked through a dim warehouse with waist-high shelves of mushrooms growing in soil-filled boxes. When we walked out into the sunlight, the manager showed me a gargantuan pile of compost that would get up to 835 degrees F or some such thing. I thought it was silly to get excited about a compost pile. But interests change, and now I am a student of compost, always trying to improve my compost in order to improve my vegetable garden. (I admit I have a compost thermometer.)

In going back to row gardening (after doing Mittleider Method and Square Foot Gardening), I had a landscaping company bring in 7 cubic yards of mushroom compost. That's a lot of compost, people. Let's just say there was a large truck, there were five wheelbarrows lined up, and there was a man to go with each one. I had the team till the garden, then spread the compost on top, then till again. Then I had them follow a detailed plan as to how wide and high to make each row (3 feet wide and 1 foot deep), how wide to make each walkway (18 inches wide).

I can truly say that mushroom compost has made my vegetables grow wild. And the thing is, this super-compost is actually from the Madisonville mushroom farm. So you know how things have circled around for me. Lots more on gardening later.

In the meantime, can one of you hazard a guess (or actual answer) at the name of this mushroom/toadstool? I have no idea.

If you are a mushroom hunter/gatherer, please share what you know in the comment section of the Quirky Cultivator. I'm always curious.

- K


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