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MailTribune.com
  • Forest fungi

    From spring morels to fall chanterelles, wild mushrooms abound in regional forests
  • The Pacific Northwest is a mecca for amateur and commercial mushroom hunters alike. With our abundant forested landscapes and spring and fall moisture, there are easily hundreds of edible species to choose from, though perhaps a dozen species account for most of these fungi that end up on the plate.
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    • Picking on public land
      If you want to pick mushrooms for personal use on the BLM or U.S. Forest Service land around the Rogue Valley, you do not need a permit, but you're limited to picking a gallon per day and a total o...
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      Picking on public land
      If you want to pick mushrooms for personal use on the BLM or U.S. Forest Service land around the Rogue Valley, you do not need a permit, but you're limited to picking a gallon per day and a total of five gallons per year.

      Personal-use collectors may not harvest matsutake mushroom on USFS land. On BLM land, you must cut your mushrooms in half on site, to prove you won't be selling them. If you sell your bounty, you're considered a commercial picker and will need a permit.

      The cost is $10 a day, $35 a week or $100 for 6 months on BLM land. The price is $20 for 10 days or $150 for 6 months on Forest Service land.
  • The Pacific Northwest is a mecca for amateur and commercial mushroom hunters alike. With our abundant forested landscapes and spring and fall moisture, there are easily hundreds of edible species to choose from, though perhaps a dozen species account for most of these fungi that end up on the plate.
    Morels and chanterelles are the most popular mushrooms collected in forests surrounding the Rogue Valley, says Mike Potts, a Talent-based photographer who has been collecting mushrooms and leading fungi hikes for many years.
    The equipment needed to get started is minimal and inexpensive.
    "Bring a basket or a paper bag to collect mushrooms — not plastic bags, because the mushrooms will rot," Potts explains. "It's easy to get lost while mushroom hunting — you're always looking at the ground — so bring a compass and know where you are. Also, use a knife to cut the mushrooms and maybe a brush to brush off the debris " it might be nice to have an ice chest if you're out there all day."
    In our more rural areas in the spring, it's common to see a table set up on the side of the road with a hand-drawn sign that reads "Mushroom buyer." In the spring, you can bet they're looking for morels, distinctive mushrooms with a honeycombed cap that come in colors ranging from blond, yellow and brown to gray and almost black. Morels have a wonderfully buttery taste.
    In the fall, many mushroom hunters turn their attention to chanterelles. There's more than one variety in the forests of Southern Oregon, but the most prized and abundant is the yellow chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius). This is a fairly easy mushroom to identify, with its trumpet shape and a faint scent of apricots. The only real wrinkle when it comes to picking chanterelles is to steer clear of a relative that can give some people a bellyache.
    "Scaly vase chanterelle is the common name, it's a different genus — Gomphus floccosus," says Potts. "It looks just like a chanterelle but with holes on the top with scales. The chanterelles don't have the holes," says Potts.
    Morels and chanterelles rise from the soil in different seasons.
    Morels begin to appear soon after the snow melts in the spring and will often seem to be chasing the retreating front of the snowpack. People start finding them on the Rogue Valley floor as early as February and March. In April they're typically popping up in the foothills at 2,500 to 4,000 feet elevation, and by May the morels will be fruiting above 5,000 feet.
    Chanterelles, on the other hand, start at higher elevations in late summer and early fall, and as the weather cools they'll fruit at lower elevations. Depending on snow levels and other factors, they'll continue fruiting into the early winter.
    "Chanterelles like a certain elevation," says Potts. "Here in the Cascades, you can't really find them below 3,000 feet. A range of 5,000 to 6,000 feet is a good elevation in late September and October. It's also true for the Siskiyous, but it's rare to find the abundance there you do in the Cascades. They grow in abundance near the coast " down close to the shoreline, in older, established forests with big trees."
    Veteran 'shroomers often develop a passion for other edibles that are less common in Southern Oregon, such as matsutake and porcini, which is also known as boletes. Once you've mastered the identification of morels and the golden chanterelle, Potts has three suggestions for you.
    "Oyster mushrooms grow along creeks down in the valley; those are excellent mushrooms and abundant here in this area," he says. "Shaggy manes are pretty easy ones, usually in the spring and fall when it's cool. Along mountain roads they grow in big clusters, people eat them, and they're pretty safe to identify. " Another good mushroom in the fall is the bear's head — it's a really beautiful, coral-like mushroom that grows in the fall on logs up in the Cascades. ... That one's really easy to identify, and it's really tasty."
    Though morels and chanterelles can generally be identified with a guidebook, it's worth tagging along with an experienced forager your first few times out, or take one of the many mushroom hikes or classes offered locally.
    Northwest Nature Shop, 154 Oak St., Ashland, holds a mushroom fair every spring and fall, and local mushroom experts who attend are always happy to identify mushrooms for beginners. Call 541-482-3241 for details.
    The Siskiyou Field Institute in Selma will offer three mushroom courses this year in October and November: Edible Mushrooms of the Southern Cascades, Edible Mushrooms of the Siskiyous, and Forest Mushrooms of Southwest Oregon/Northwest California. Find details at www.thesfi.org or call 541-597-8530.
    Mushroom hunting can be a satisfying way to explore the forests of Southern Oregon, but be careful out there. One of the deadliest mushrooms anywhere on the planet can be found in Southern Oregon: death cap amanita. Though you can find a different, edible amanita species here, it's best to stay away from all of them.
    Mushroom hunting is so popular locally, it's best to practice responsible mushroom harvesting.
    "Never pick 100 percent of the mushrooms in one patch," says Potts. "Leave a few to keep dispersing spores. Tread lightly, pick (only) what you'll eat."
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