If you have been out on the trails lately, you might have noticed that certain of them are flanked by fungi. I do not claim to be a mushroom expert, but I do encourage you to get out soon and look for some of these fantastic growths. (Let me be clear– I am not encouraging you to forage or eat random mushrooms. Don’t eat anything you don’t know for sure won’t harm you. This post is about exploring with eyes, not with tastebuds.) Here are five facts to share with your kiddos as you wander the trails:
- Many mushrooms are mycorrhizal, meaning that they need other plants (usually the roots of the plants) to live. This is why you can often find mushrooms clustered around certain trees. Also, now you know the word “mycorrhizal,” and that’s something.
- Mushrooms do not need chlorophyll. They eat dead organic matter, making them the vultures of the non-plant world.
- The mushroom is actually the “fruit” of the mycelium threads, which are the main part of the fungus. If you break off the top part of the mushroom, the mycelium threads will continue to produce mushrooms. This is why, you should never dig up a mushroom, but break it off, leaving the threads alone. This is also why mushrooms can grow in a line or the legendary “fairy ring”– those mushrooms are actually connected under the earth. So. Cool.
- Fungi are the largest living organisms on the planet. The mycelium threads can stretch 3 miles in length, even if you don’t look out and see a three mile line of mushrooms.
- Fungi may be closer to animals than plants.
They are also just plain cool-looking. I encourage you to gather up your kiddos this weekend and head out to explore some fantastic fungi. See how many different colored fungi you can find. What are all the different places you can find them? What shapes can you find? Oak woodlands have many different fungi that sprout up from underneath their leaves–Try Leona Canyon, or Wildcat Canyon– Wildcat Creek Trail (where these pictures were all taken). There are mushrooms in meadows, too– basically you can find them all over– you just have to get out there and go on a mushroom hunt. As reminders, it’s illegal to take anything from an East Bay Regional Park, and you should most definitely seek out the expertise of, well, an expert, if you want to go foraging (but not in the East Bay Regional Parks). If you want to learn more about these intriguing organisms, try this article from Bay Nature published in 2012.
If you want to find out more about the fungus among us, there is a mushroom mini-fair on February 7th at the Tilden Nature Center. Mushroom walks are offered the next three Sundays as well, at various East Bay Regional Parks. The Sonoma County Mycological Association has different (free!) events for the first 40 people who show up at various locations– see calendar for details. There are also more costly foraging adventures, but your young person better be really into mushrooms.
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