ACT's Nature Corner: Identifying Mushrooms in Southern Maine
Join the ACT Mushroom Challenge Activity! Details at the end of the article.
Mushrooms are a type of fungi and come in many shapes, colors, and sizes. On the Arundel Conservation Trust trails in Southern Coastal Maine, we see them most often in the spring and particularly in the fall. This year they started sprouting up as early as August. This article will show you some of our more common mushroom varieties that you might see this time of year out on the trails.
Caution Disclaimer Ahead
This article is to help you seek out and find some of the many types of mushrooms we have around us. It is not a foraging guide and although many mushrooms are deliciously edible I will not be talking about their edibility. Remember DO NOT EAT ANY MUSHROOM that hasn’t been confirmed in person by an expert.
Ok, now that’s out of the way let’s begin. Mushrooms are not plants. They do not photosynthesize their own food like green plants. They rely on absorbing the nutrients they need from other plants, trees, vegetation, and soil. Sometimes in a symbiotic way and sometimes by decomposition. The main part of all mushrooms is called mycelium very thin filaments that penetrate its host and absorb nutrients. Most of a mushrooms’ mycelium remains unseen within the host. What we see and call a “mushroom” is really just the fruiting body of the fungi. It contains the reproductive spores, rather than seeds, that will become the next generation. Below are some of the common types of mushrooms found locally.
Gilled Mushrooms are usually what we think about when we think about mushrooms. Umbrella-like caps topping a stalk. Sometimes the upper part of the stalk will have a delicate skirt of a thin membrane. And under the cap? Lots of tiny sections run from the center to the edge separated by thin membranes called gills. The reproductive spores are produced within these gills and are released to the ground as the mushroom matures. Gilled mushrooms grow both on the ground and on downed logs and other vegetation. The illustrated gilled mushroom is a Scarlet Waxy Cap I’ve often seen on the Limerick Road trails. It grows from 1 to 4 inches high with a cap 1 to 3 inches wide. The cap starts out bell-shaped but widens and flattens as it grows.
Bolete Mushrooms, look much like the gilled mushrooms they have the familiar cap and stalk but take a look under the cap. No gills! Instead, a bolete will have pores. These are hollow tubes that hold the mushroom's spores. Many mushrooms help to decompose fallen or unhealthy trees returning the tree's nutrients to the soil. Boletes how however work together with trees to the benefit of both. They connect their mycelium with the root system of certain trees. The mushrooms help give the tree water and the tree gives the bolete sugar. The illustrated bolete is a King Bolete. Its cap looks like a type of wrinkled bun, colored yellow-brown to reddish-brown. The stalk is bulbous at the bottom and has very distinctive raised webbing-like ridges.
Polypore Mushrooms or sometimes called shelf or bracket fungi do not have gills but pores on their underside but do not have stalks or stems. The caps are fan-shaped or semicircular and hard or crusty. They grow on both downed and upright trees. Some species will only grow on certain trees like birch or oak. Usually, the cap is furrowed following the shape of the cap and many times the resultant strips are different colors or at least shade of a color. The illustrated “Turkey tails” is thin and leathery their size ranges from 1-4 inches with very tiny pores on its white underside. I’ll let you guess why they are called “Turkey tails”. They usually grow close to the ground on fallen logs or stumps.
The other illustration shows and “Artist’s Conk” they can grow to enormous sizes, but I’ve only seen ones up to 10 inches. They are named because if you find one unattached on the ground you can take something sharp like a pointed stick and draw on the underside. The whitish pores will turn brown as you “draw”. I have seen some beautiful drawings occasionally in old Maine antique shops.
Coral Mushrooms look exactly like their name. They usually grow directly on the wet forest floor. They have no cap or stalk only branches that continually divide as they grow upward. Although there are some coral mushrooms or more accurately club mushrooms that have single stalks. Spores are produced at the tips of the “branches” in both cases. The illustrated Crown-Tipped Coral is one of the few corals that grow on wood. The clusters are 2-5 inches high with “branches” growing from the top of older branches and ending in small tips that look like a crown, hence the name. this species starts out whitish to pale yellow and turns tan or pinkish as it ages.
Chanterelle Mushrooms look like small trumpets, or some say like the bloom of a Morning Glory. Rather than true gills, they have ridges that extend vertically from under the cap almost to the bottom of the stalk. The ridges or folds are the same color as the cap. The stalk is much wider at the top and narrows towards the base. The two most common colors are yellow/yellow-orange or black. The illustrated Chanterelle is found on the ground under oaks or conifers. They are about 3 inches tall and from 1-6 inches tall. These are rare to find and I have not actually found one of these in our local woods so if you see one be sure to let me know! They are more common in southern New England but are making their way north.
Cup Mushrooms look, you guessed it, like cups. The spores are produced inside the “cup”. When it rains the cup shape tends to focus the drops to splash the spores out of the cup. They tend to grow on rotting hardwood on the forest floor or on dead trunks. The illustrated Common Brown Cup has a brown interior. It is white where it attaches to the wood and its thin edges are wavy and sometimes broken.
Jelly Mushrooms look the least like our common ideas of a mushroom, they have no stalk, no cap, no gills, or pores. They look like gelatinous or rubbery blobs. You will find them on decaying wood. When dry they become shrived and hard but once the rains comes they return quickly to their jelly like form. They carry spore-like reproductive bodies on their surface. The illustrated Witch’s Butter is a bright yellow to yellow-orange, from 1-4 inches wide but no more than 1 ½ inches tall. Their spores are produced on the arched lobes.
Puffballs Mushrooms are round or have an upside-down pear shape. They can be a few inches across or giant puffballs can be upwards of 10 inches. They are often found in fields or meadows where they depend on the wind or some animal to step on them to release their spores into the air like a cloud of smoke. They are also found in the forest where some have a special mechanism that explodes the puffball open when it is hit from above by a drop of rain or water from an overhead tree. The illustrated “Devil’s Snuffbox” is about 1-2.5 inches across, covered in cone-shaped spines. They grow from white to yellow brown to a dark olive as they mature.
There are many other types of mushrooms not included here, such as Morels and Stink Horns. These won't be part of the Mushroom Challenge Activity but do let us know if you find any other interesting mushrooms! Thank you for reading up on Southern Maine mushroom! We hope you will participate in the Mushroom Challenge!
The Mushroom Challenge Activity
Find at least one of each kind of mushroom while walking the trails, in the woods or your own back yard.
Take a picture of each one you find.
Send the picture to me at firstname.lastname@example.org the person who has found the most mushroom types will win a prize. If we have a tie, we will hold a drawing.
Entries must be in by November 1st 2021