Mushrooms are amongst the most difficult organisms to accurately identify.  Many look nearly identical.  Still, a mushroom-spotting hike is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.  

First, let’s review a few facts.  As you probably know, mushrooms are fungi.  There are more than 11,000 named species in North America.  Some sources say there are 14,000 species identified throughout the world. That number seems quite low proportionately.   However, it is understandable if you also know that only 5-10% of all mushroom species globally have been scientifically described.  This suggests that many are awaiting further exploration and research.  (Discovery opportunity!)

Lots of different varieties exist in your environment.  There are more

Mushroom Forest
Image by Michi-Nordlicht from Pixabay

mushroom species than there are types of birds. So let’s go find some.  

The challenge is to spot at least one example per category listed below.   You don’t need to know what they are called, just what they look like and where they grow.  Try not to use the same type for more than one description.   This shouldn’t be a problem in a healthy ecosystem. 

Here’s a checklist for you to follow:

A mushroom that is growing on a standing tree

A mushroom that is growing on a fallen tree or limb

A mushroom that is growing in the soil

A mushroom that has only one head

A mushroom that has multiple heads or finger-like structures

A mushroom with a dome-shaped head

A mushroom that is more than one color

A mushroom that is brightly colored (not white, cream, brown, nor gray)

A mushroom that reminds you of brain or coral

Something that could be a mushroom or maybe another fungi (add description)

Any other odd or unusual finding (add description)

Find as many of these as you can.   You can repeat this exercise on almost any walk and find new specimens throughout the year.  

Lastly, remember safety first.  If you participate in this challenge, please don’t eat your findings unless you are working with a qualified expert who is advising you.  I am most definitely not that person.

Enjoy and happy searching.

This challenge is rated as easy. 

Over the weekend, I watched a short documentary on YouTube about fungi.  Before it began, I did not have high expectations. Often, videos on that platform don’t have strong production values.  They need additional editing or a stronger narrative arc.  This video, however, was an exception.  I suggest you watch it too.  

You can find “Stephen Axford: How fungi changed my view of the world”, posted in September, 2020, here:  https://youtu.be/KYunPJQWZ1o

If you are not familiar with Australian photographer Stephen Axford, you are in for a treat.   

He started taking photos of mushrooms in the woods near his home because he thought they were pretty.  The more he looked, the more variety he found.  The colors, shapes, and unusual locations prompted him to take more photos and learn about the different species.  Then it dawned on him how critical fungi were to the foundation of life.  Thus began his worldwide fungi quest.  

Using various techniques such as time-lapse and macro photography, and some videography, Axford shows us an alien world that often goes unseen but exists all around us.  

If after viewing this documentary, you may wonder if these kinds of stunning fungi are found only in remote parts of Australia, China, and the Himalayas.  They are not exclusive to exotic locations.  For example, there are bioluminescent mushrooms found in my home state of Maine.  I’ll bet there are some amazing fungi specimens where you live too.  

Time to go exploring!

Additional Resources:

Axford’s website:  https://steveaxford.smugmug.com

Axford’s Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/planet_fungi/

@planet_fungi