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Magical mushrooms

TRR photos by Sandy Long

July 30, 2014

As summer heat and rains combine, the Upper Delaware regional forests become a marvelous landscape of mysterious fungal life forms that bring to mind the magic of fairyland and folklore. Poking from moss-covered decaying trees, sprouting under the frothy wings of ferns, lifting the old leaf litter from the forest floor, mushrooms capture our imagination with their varied shapes, colors and textures.

While there are estimated to be more than a million species of fungi in the world, most are microscopic and cannot be seen by the human eye. Those that can be seen are macrofungi, and they are currently appearing in great abundance all around us. Bracket, tooth, coral, jelly sac and gill fungi, as well as slime moulds, puffballs and boletes can be seen around the region with little effort and an eye tuned into the landscape.

To illustrate this point, here are photos of a small sample of the mushrooms I’ve seen on three local walks recently. They are presented for the purpose of delight rather than identification. The art of mushroom identification is gained by diligent observation and study. Before handling or consuming any mushroom, it is essential to know its identity, as some species are toxic and can cause death.

Field guides and mushroom walks or workshops are essential to learning this skill. The Delaware Highlands Mushroom Society ( is a great place to start. Mark your calendar for the Wild Mushroom Walk to be led by its founder, Nathaniel Whitmore ( on September 13 at 1 p.m. at Lacawac Sanctuary in Wayne County, PA.

Now is the perfect time to take children for woodland walks to light their imaginations with appreciation for these precious life forms. You are bound to enjoy the foray into fairyland, too.