Tuesday, May 19, 2009


I had mentioned before that my dad is a bit of an aspiring mycologist -er, mushroom hunter, actually (I don't think he has any particular interesting fungi aside from identifying them and then eating them). I gave him a book on mushroom identification for his birthday, which he has since put to use only a few times, but from which has gained much pleasure (my $40 wasn't an entire waste). The other day he brought in some mushroom from the backyard and asked me to identify them using his book, but not tell him what I thought they were. He would then determine what he thought they were and if our guesses were the same, he would eat them in his omelet the next morning. I said they were fairy ring mushrooms, he said they were fairy ring mushrooms, and he ate them for breakfast the next morning -he didn't die. We own some land out east in Adams County, Ohio where people frequently trespass to collect mushrooms, and they come out with a substantial quantity of morels in particular. So, my dad's been trying to get some of them to take him along on such a mushroom hunt, so that he might become more comfortable and "learn the ropes, " so to speak (it would certainly legitimise these people being on our property). However, he has discovered that avid "shroomers," as they call themselves, are more than a tad reticent when it comes to disclosing information about their favorite spots -even if these locations particularly good for finding mushrooms do happen to be on a neighbor's land. We're still trying to find away to get around this "if I told you I'd have to kill you" clause, because the offer to enter and leave the area blindfolded has yet to work.

Anyway, I just started my summer class in field biology this week and got to thinking about mushroom identification, because we've been doing quite a bit of plant identification in the woods. John Cage, being the mushroom enthusiast we all know and love, wrote a little about taking a similar class in fungus identification in some of his "digression speeches." Here's one I found today:

"I enrolled in a class in mushroom identification. The teacher was a Ph.D. and the editor of a
publication on mycology. One day he picked up a mushroom, gave a good deal of information
about it, mainly historical, and finally named the plant as Pluteus cervinus, edible. I was certain that that plant was not Pluteus cervinus. Due to the attachment of its gills to the stem, it seemed to me to be an Entoloma, and therefore possibly seriously poisonous. I thought: What shall I do? Point out the teacher’s error? Or, following school etiquette, saying nothing, let other members of the class possibly poison themselves? I decided to speak. I said, “I doubt whether that mushroom is Pluteus cervinus. I think it’s an Entoloma.” The teacher said, “Well, we’ll key it out.” This was done, and it turned out I was right. The plant was Entoloma grayanum, a poisonous mushroom. The teacher came over to me and said, “If you know so much about mushrooms, why do you take this class?” I said, “I take this class because there’s so much about mushrooms I don’t know.” Then I said, “By the way, how is it that you didn’t recognize that plant?” He said, “Well, I specialize in the jelly fungi; I just give the fleshy fungi a whirl.”

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