This story was originally published in July 2021.
Water-speckled ferns and grasses edged the dirt road. I breathed in the misty morning air, fresh after two days of rain. High overhead, a squirrel leapt from branch to branch, shaking free beads of water that showered down in waves.
“Keep an eye out for mushrooms,” I instructed my dog, Juno, as we dodged a squirrel-induced sprinkle.
I’d heard that new mushrooms burst forth after a good rain, and I wanted to put that theory to the test.
Juno wasn’t really going to help. Her forte is finding sticks. But she was along for the walk anyway. I just had to make sure she didn’t eat any of the mushrooms that I stopped to photograph along the way. Not being a fungi expert, I’m never quite certain what’s toxic and what’s edible.
When it comes to mushrooms, I look. I admire. But I don’t touch. I leave that to the seasoned foragers.
As we made our way downhill, away from our home, I scanned the edge of the forest that I know so well. And even though I expected to spot new mushrooms, I wasn’t quite prepared for the quantity and variety of fungi that had burst forth from the duff and rotten logs overnight.
Sprouting from the muddy banks of the roadside ditch, a number of chocolate brown mushrooms caught my eye. Their trumpet-shaped caps were edged with white, fanning out atop tall, thin stocks. Once I crouched to inspect them, other mushroom species that were growing nearby started to pop out at me.
Large mushrooms with thick, pale yellow stocks and deep purple caps grew from the muddy slope. They were easy to spot, but many others were more camouflaged — or simply so tiny that they took close attention to notice. Mushrooms were everywhere.
A few steps into the woods, a white mushroom stood alone. It glowed in the dim light of the overcast morning. Beneath its wide cap, a frill ringed its tall stock, like a skirt. “Destroying angel?” I wondered. There are a few mushrooms I know the common name for, and the destroying angel — Maine’s most toxic mushroom — is one of them. Exercising caution, I resolved to return and photograph the ghostly mushroom when I didn’t have Juno in tow.
Over the past 10 or so years, I’ve attended wild mushroom workshops and tagged along with expert foragers. I’ve purchased several fungi field guides (and even been gifted a couple by a generous BDN reader). At this point, I can often point out common mushrooms such as chanterelles, chicken of the woods, reishi, turkey tails and puffballs. But I’m not sure how much I’d bet on my identification skills.
Identifying mushrooms can be tricky. There are plenty of lookalike species. I remember that lesson being driven home while foraging with mushroom enthusiast David Porter in Brooklin a few years ago. He was confident about the edibles he was collecting, but when we returned to his kitchen, I noticed mushroom caps lying on pieces of paper on the counter. He explained that he was making spore prints, which is a pattern created by powdery spores as they fall from the mushroom’s fruiting body. The prints can be used to identify certain species. Yes, mushroom identification can be that involved.
Encouraged by the variety of mushrooms I was finding around my home, I decided that Juno and I needed to go on a little field trip. Any woodland trail would do. I just wanted to see if we could find even more variety in a different location.
So we traveled to Cooper Farm, a preserve that’s owned and managed by the Blue Hill Heritage Trust on Caterpillar Hill in Sedgwick.
The preserve’s trail network consists of three loops that explore a field and mossy forest. Sweating under the midday sun, I led Juno on all three trails. And even though we were exhausted by the end of the balmy hike, I was glad we made the trip. Dotting the forest floor were a number of colorful mushrooms I hadn’t seen near my home.
Rich maroon mushrooms had burst forth from thick beds of moss, along with yellow spotted caps that looked straight out of a fairytale book. I lay down to photograph them from ground level several times, resolving to conduct a tick check before climbing back in my vehicle. Mushroom photography involves a lot of rolling around on the ground.
So after all this, I was curious: Why do mushrooms pop up everywhere after a good rain? The answer turned out to be quite simple. Mushrooms need water to grow. In fact, most fungi require a great deal of water to grow — though some species are capable of growing in dry conditions. And did you know that there’s actually fungi that can live underwater? These are the things you learn when reading through college course material on the internet.
Next time it rains, consider all the fungi that water is nourishing. Go out and take a look. You might be surprised at what pops up from the forest floor.