I have a real problem. I want to put in some paw paw trees so I can try the famous “Michigan Banana.” However, they are 35 feet tall and do not self- pollinate so I would need to plant two. That would shade basically our entire yard. So, I have turned my thoughts to alternative solutions. I have considered trying to gift one to one of my neighbors. I am also thinking of just covertly planting some…around the city. While I don’t want to implicate anyone, I think this kind of guerilla landscaping might run in my family. We took out one of the vegetable garden beds and planted a magnolia and a fig. While figs are not cold hardy in Michigan, I have heard a lot of stories from my neighbors who have had good luck. This one will be babied a little bit, but people have have good luck by mounding mulch over the trunk the first winter, and wrapping the whole thing in a burlap bag. We also planted it pretty close to the foundation in hopes it could heat share.
Also this weekend we went to the fungus festival. The Michigan Mushroom hunters club puts on this event. It was three days of mushroom hunting. We only did the beginner’s session, beginner’s hunt, and one other hunt. Etiquette wise I learned it is not good for beginner’s to press experts too hard on where exactly they found mushrooms (just like fishing there are secret spots), pick everything and then ask them to identify it all with you, or to pick all of anything unless it is a desirable edible. I also learned that picking mushrooms is not destructive. The reason mushrooms make structures like gills and caps is so that the wind or animals will move their spores around. It also seems kind of frowned upon to only care about mushrooms for the purpose of eating them.
Full disclosure: While I will eat a lot of things that other people will not (raw dairy products, home made kombucha, etc.) I was terrified to eat the mushrooms. To start with here is the major family of deathly poisonous mushrooms in Michigan: Aminita’s.
Here they are:
(not every mushroom in this picture is poisonous, this is just the genus that contains the most seriously poison mushrooms).
These are not the only deadly poisonous mushrooms in Michigan (see also, poison pigskin). They are just the scariest. I was expecting poison mushrooms to be, I don’t know, like poisonous tree frogs or something that they would be red to indicate poison? These were some of the most innocuous looking mushrooms we saw all day. But they have names like death cap, destroying angel, etc. The destroying angel reportedly tastes good, and as little as half a mushroom can kill you, and there is no known antidote. It is unknown what benefit the toxin serves since it does not prevent the mushroom from being eaten.
However, it is easily identified because its gills do not fully meet the stipe (usually) it has a skirt, an annulus, and a cup although the cup may be underground. The only real risk is that when it is small it may be confused with the edible puffball mushrooms. This is easily checked by cutting all puffballs in half. A member of the puffball family is safe to eat as long as it is pure white inside. If it were an immature angel of death, cutting it open would reveal the developing gills to the mature mushroom. If a puffball cut in half is purple, it is a poison pigskin and must be avoided.
Interestingly, I learned that many poisonings occur in visitors or recent immigrants who go for a hunt and find something that resembles a mushroom they have at home, but has different properties. Other common occurrences are in children, and people who just think it doesn’t look poison….do with that what you will.
Here are some other mushrooms that we found and are (mostly) edible.
Turkey Tail: I am pretty sure this is turkey tail, although not sure enough to consume it without confirmation as there is a false turkey tail that I am not familiar with. Turkey tail is excellent as a tea or in broth for your immune system and has been getting a lot of attention from cancer researchers lately (although its cancer fighting capabilities are certainly not news in eastern medicine).
Chantrelles: This is the only one I have eaten so far. Chantrelles are sought after edibles and easily identified. They have a poisonous look alike (jack o’lantern) which grows larger and in bigger clusters. When peeled, jack o’lanterns are orange within the stem as well. Chantrelles are lighter. Further, the gills of the chantrelle are folds, and those of jack o lantern are fully distinct. What finally convinced me this was ok to try first is that the poisoning of the jack o’lantern is not fatal, just unpleasant. When I was doing research for this section I found that the jack o’lanterns are supposedly so tasty that there have been repeated cases of second time poisonings from people who thought it was worth a second try!
This is a polypore nonedible cheese mushroom. I just thought the pore pattern was pretty. One method of determining one mushroom from another is to take a spore print. By placing the cap of a mushroom on white or black (or white and black, although white is usually best) paper with the gill/pore side down, covering it, and leaving it, spores will be deposited on the paper in the print of the mushroom. These colors can cover the rainbow spectrum. In many cases the only way to tell between a poisonous mushroom, and an edible look-alike is to take a spore print and see what color it is. The spore prints are also very beautiful. Once woman there says she makes tshirts out of them. I thought the prints might make a nice quilt. Despite how much I liked this one, I didn’t take any prints.
This mushroom was a mystery to me, so I broke some etiquette rules: I asked an expert to identify it for me. He turned out to be a mycologist and we were SO LUCKY to run into him. If we had not I certainly would not have eaten anything we found. He said this was an edible and gave its latin name. He also recommended we boil it first because it is in the same family as morels. Morels (and whatever this is) have a little bit of the rocket fuel toxin in them, and boiling it removes the toxin (but don’t breathe the fumes). I went so far as to boil this, but I don’t think I’m likely to eat it since I can’t remember what he said it was.
These are a terrible picture of some puffballs, which I probably will eat soon. I have heard they are best dehydrated and then cooked up in something that has a liquid so they reabsorb the flavor of the cooking liquid (soup, pasta sauce).
This is a member of the Russula family. While it was identified as an edible to us, many russulas are nonedible, so I doubt i will eat this or look for Russula’s going forward.
This post feels overwhelmingly negative about the mushroom hunting but it was really a great time. I enjoyed it a lot and will definitely be going again soon (as soon as I get my mushroom identification book). It was especially fun to just crash through the woods. If anything I was just frustrated not to know more.
The rest of the group was looking mostly for hens of the forest, chicken mushrooms, and shaggy manes which are the best eating and considered the best finds really. There was not a lot of those to be had, but I would feel comfortable eating those if I found some. It was really interesting to learn that there are about 14 mushroom genera (plural of genus?) and how the families are actually really closely related even just visually (as well as in their effects).
There was also a mushroom dying workshop going on which I would love to attend at next year’s festival. This year I just wanted to get the basics down.
Snuffy thinks that we are crazy and we should just eat them. He also practices what he preaches and there is literally nothing he will not eat.
Do you think it is unethical to engage in guerilla landscaping for a self-serving purpose? Have you ever hunted wild mushrooms?
*** Please please please don’t take this information here and eat any mushrooms because of it because I am just a beginner am just relaying what I learned!