As a nature-loving child, I tested the edibility of many things in our suburban yard: blades of grass, pine needles, clover, spring onions. Only a few items, like honeysuckle and wood sorrel, merited sampling more than once. One plant I never tried in situ, though, was a mushroom. Ooh, too dangerous. It might be poisonous. Well, in theory, that could change (though I am beyond my yard-eating days) because I now own the new North American Mushrooms: A Field Guide to Edible and Inedible Fungi, by Dr. Orson K. Miller and Hope H. Miller.
Here in New England we've had a mild and somewhat rainy fall, and lots of mushroom have sprung up. What a good project for Junior (who's 7) and me, I thought: mushroom i.d. He warmed to the idea, especially when allowed to use the new camera. (See left-hand photo. Not bad, eh? You can click on all the pics to enlarge them.) As it turns out, mushroom identification is kind of complicated. Our guide features wonderful photography, but it's difficult to sort out some of the terminology. "Lamellae adnate, distant, white." Thank goodness there's a glossary.
But other parts of the book make for entertaining reading; each mushroom is captioned with its edible quotient from "deadly poisonous" to "poisonous, hallucinogenic" to "edible with caution" to "edibility unknown" and more. This kind at right, Stereum ostrea, is rated "inedible," but then again I never even considered biting our woodpile.
Some terms you can guess the meaning of pretty easily. Mushrooms that grow in groups are called "gregarious." Those yellow ones (er, Collybia arcervata?) at the beginning of this post are gregarious. I also like the authors' comments for each entry. About the poisonous Tricholoma inamoenum, they say, "Odor strong of coal gas or tar. Taste disagreeable." Definitely one to cross off the hors-d'oeuvres list.
To fully i.d. a mushroom, you need to take a spore print. That's easy. You remove the mushroom's stem (or stipe, as we mycologists say) and put the cap (a.k.a, the pileus) on white bond paper, and keep it in a humid place like a Baggie overnight. The book tells you exactly how to do it. The mushroom on the left, which was growing in a rotting log, makes a spore print like this, on the right.
Isn't that cool? The spore print is a deep, rich brown, as you can see. Junior and I were good at making the spore prints. We're not so good at narrowing down exactly which North American mushroom in the 584-page guide this is. It may be the edible Austroboletus betula, but may doesn't quite cut it if you're thinking of having it for dinner. Since I am the only one in my house who eats mushrooms anyway, I went with an old reliable, one easily identified by its markings. It does not appear in North American Mushrooms, but surely it's safe to eat.