Winter is far from mushroom hunting season. Most fungi stop producing mushrooms, or fruiting bodies, in early fall, and their hyphae (filamentous structures that make up the main part of the fungal body) are out of sight, inside the wood or in the ground. . However, you can still find a few specimens in the winter. Spotting them is simply a matter of knowing where to look.
A few soft-bodied mushrooms, such as edible velvet foot and jelly ear, fruit from late fall to early winter. Others, including late fall oyster, sculls, and brick tops, will occasionally linger when mild weather persists or emerge during a thaw. You can also (more likely) find specimens of these mushrooms in dried form. The tough fungi of some shelf and support mushrooms — artist’s conk, crowded scroll, and turkey tail, for example — persist year-round.
One winter day with temperatures hovering around 20 degrees and several inches of snow covering the ground, I embarked on a mushroom hunting expedition. Almost immediately, I spotted a small mass of orange jelly on a downed hemlock log. Orange and yellow jellies (several species) are not actively growing now, but they are remarkably durable and will spring back to normal size during rain or snowmelt. I also discovered a common crowded parchment lot on the other side of the trail.
On a nearby stump was a magnificent group of turkeytails, a year-round resident of the forest. The fan-shaped caps of this specimen displayed alternating color zones: white, tan, dark brown, gray, sky blue, and dark blue. Although technically edible and traditionally used for teas, turkey tail mushroom has recently garnered more interest for its possible uses in cancer treatments. Its striped leather caps are also prized by certain jewelers who transform them into earrings.
As the trail climbed gently, I came across a large amount of orange false oyster mushrooms on a downed log. Their 1-5 inch orange to orange-yellow, fan-shaped, shiny caps stood out against the snow. Again, this species is not actively growing now, but deserves close examination for its remarkably fuzzy surface. A sniff will tell you it’s inedible; it smells sulphurous, like spoiled cabbage or rotten eggs.
Further down the trail, under a downed birch branch, I discovered a small cluster of glowing panellus. This pale beige, kidney-shaped mushroom is highly bioluminescent for part of its life cycle, one of three species with this trait in the northeast.
Crossing a small ridge, I came across two of the most common and visible mushrooms on shelves and racks. On a yellow birch grew several horse-hoof-shaped mushrooms, brown and gray in color: the tinder polypore. Ancient humans used this woody fungus as tinder for fires (hence its common name) as well as for medicinal purposes. Nearby, a dead paper birch has spawned several greyish-brown fungi characteristic of the birch polypore. Historical applications for this species range from fuel to use as razor leather to a deworming agent.
As the walk progressed, my species inventory expanded to include four additional mushrooms: the cinnabar-red polypore, the lilac-edged violet-toothed polypore, the artist’s conk, and the oak-toothed polypore. thin maze. I also discovered several other jelly-like fungi, including black and amber jelly-roll, and a handful of scab-like mushrooms, including common milky-white polypore, zoned phlebia, and several others that I didn’t have. yet identified. My observations also included, of course, the ubiquitous lemon drops.
As the saying goes, the best is saved for last, and near the end of the trail, a dead oak tree housed several dozen tan-colored, fan-shaped fruiting bodies of oyster mushrooms. As well as being a valuable food, this fungus has an inherent ability to degrade polycyclic hydrocarbons – the main class of molecules found in petroleum – and has been used to clean up diesel fuel contaminated sites.
Checking my list, I saw that I had come across almost 20 different mushrooms – not bad for a winter walk in the woods.
Frank Kaczmarek is a retired photographer, biologist, and author of “New England Wildflowers: A Guide to Common Plants,” a Falcon field guide published in 2009 by Globe-Pequot Press. He lives in Lyman, New Hampshire. The Outside Story is attributed to and edited by Northern Woodlands magazine and sponsored by the Wellborn Ecology Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation.