This year's forecast for mushroom hunting in the Pacific Northwest is dry, but fruitful.
Dry weather has stalled this year's forest bounty, but a few light rains have proven just how eager mushrooms are to rise from the turf.
Early harvests of sulphur shelf, or "Chicken of the Woods," along with lobster mushrooms, and the ever popular white and yellow chantrelles are available, while pigs ear, bolete, and coral mushrooms are also rising through the substrate of the forest floor.
Chanterelles are perhaps the most widely sought-after variety, and there is an abundance of them along the coast range at higher elevations. When you happen upon one, stop and pay attention to your surroundings.
It's not uncommon to trample several mushrooms in one area while overcome with the excitement to pluck the first one you lay eyes on. Look for mossy areas under old growth, evergreen debris, and where salal and Oregon grape grow.
Early on, elevation will be relative to moisture content, running off high ground into lower, flat areas. As the rains begin to occur regularly, the elevation of mushrooms appearing will raise in altitude until cold weather turns to freezing at those heights.
While moisture from the rain is key to activating the mycelium, you will find that some of the mushrooms more exposed to the elements tend to deteriorate, becoming soggy and inedible. The best days for harvesting are during periods of warmer weather after rains have saturated the soil enough that it still remains damp.
When the ground is really wet, look underneath the gaps of fallen logs that have made contact with the forest floor. The areas in which the log shields the ground from rain creates a dryer environment that will produce firmer mushrooms that tend to keep longer.
Here are a few more solid tips when hunting mushrooms:
- Being aware of your surroundings is vital to enjoying your outdoor experience; keep in mind that it's fairly easy to wander into private property on accident. Check your local regulations on harvesting and entry permits for public lands.
- Do not consume any mushrooms you can not identify with confidence. Lots of lookalikes out there have made people pretty sick over the years. A good place to pick up some resources for identification is at your local bookstore or Farmer's Market.
- If the quality of your find is in question, apply the general rule of "when in doubt, toss it out."
- While on your hike, keep track of time and your path so you don't get lost in the woods after dark. If you're unsure about how long your hike will be, bring a headlamp or flashlight.
Happy hunting, fellow mushroomers!
Photos via Randall Bonner