An Afternoon with a Mycologist

Peppery milk cap, Lactarius piperatus
Photo credit: Amber Featherstone
Lawerence Millman, mycologist and author of Fascinating Fungi of New England, led a walk in Pinkham Notch the other week and refused to answer one question: which of these mushrooms is edible?  "If something were studying you, would you want that thing's first question to be: can I eat it?"  Millman wishes that people first understand the role of fungi in the forest before asking whether the fungi could go on our plate.  All other questions he readily answered.  Why do some mushrooms grow in the fall? As hardwood trees go dormant in the fall, they store more carbohydrates in their roots, which gives the underground-growing mycelium, the vegetative part of the mushroom, greater opportunity to steal nutrients for its own production.  Should I feel bad about picking mushrooms?  As long as you are not foraging in the National Forest, no.  "...[C]ollecting a few mushrooms no more damages the fungal organism than picking fruit damages a fruit tree," says Millman.  How do I find out what it is?  Flip it over.  Is it gilled? non-gilled? growing on wood? growing on the ground?  That's the organizing principle of Millman's fungi guide. And can I eat it?  .....
Pear-shaped puffball, Lycoperdon pyriforme
Photo credit: Whitney McCann
Pigskin poison puffball, Scleroderma citrinum
Photo credit: Whitney McCann