It’s going to be a chilly 28 degrees here tonight, but as late as mid-November I noticed clusters of white mushrooms in my backyard growing out of an extended dead root system at surface level. The root system is all that remains of an old oak tree that was uprooted in Hurricane Gustav and came crashing through the ceiling of my bedroom.
Evidently, the dew point was just right in November because these mushroom clusters seemed to appear overnight and on several different occasions. They intrigued me.
Warily I approached, circling and surveying them from different angles, noting their characteristics, and then kneeling down to get a closer look. I picked one and looked at it closely, but that is all.
Unable to put it out of my mind, I thought these little beauties looked like the photos I had seen of oyster mushrooms. After all, they were growing on dead roots, a favorite habitat of oyster mushrooms. The clusters resembled a wavy or fanned kind of sea coral, with each mushroom representing an individual fan or “leaf” of the coral in somewhat the same way that artichoke leaves are arranged around a central axis of the artichoke, though not symmetrically. I noticed, too, that the gills grew from the cap directly down to the stem. In other words, the gills weren’t confined to the cap itself, but tapered downward from the underside of the cap, running almost the entire length of the stem. This is another characteristic of oyster mushrooms.
I’d read somewhere once that poisonous mushrooms generally do not harbor insects. No insects here that I could see. I’d also read that a taste test–without swallowing–is another method of differentiating poisonous from edible mushrooms; if the taste is mild or not unpleasant, chances are the shroom is edible.
I decided to taste one, picked it, popped a bite-sized portion into my mouth, and chewed. It was mild to the taste and quite pleasant. But, I was not so foolish to eat it without learning more.
The next morning that the dew point was just right, I saw more clusters of similar mushrooms growing in the same general area on the same roots, with the same shape and form, the same arrangement of the “fans” around the cluster, and the same gills attached to the stems. This time, however, the color of the mushrooms was a light tan. Again, I wondered whether they were oysters; they seemed to be, but only a spore print would settle the matter. Oyster mushrooms produce a print with a somewhat lavender tinge to it, or so I understand.
I picked the largest “fan” from the cluster, brought it inside, showed it to Jim, and together we placed the shroom, gill side down, on an 8″ x 10″ inch sheet of white paper. We then covered the shroom with a bowl and left it alone for 24-hours to deposit its spores on the paper.
The next morning, we uncovered the mushroom, discarded it, and looked at our first spore print. It was lovely! All the little ridges of the cap were visible on the paper. The color was what I would call “taupe,” but if you looked at it just right squinting your eyes a little, you could almost see a lavender tinge to it in the right light.
Now that I’m virtually certain these are oyster mushrooms growing on the dead roots in my backyard, come Spring, I think I’m ready to venture forth and eat just one. I’ll start with that and let you know the outcome.