The Magical and Mysterious Mushroom

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Transcribed for our international readers:

BLUANCHOR LLC, Treehouse Magazine and its affiliates, are in no way liable for any ingestion, false identification, sickness or death as a result of improper identification of toxic and non-toxic mushroom specimens. Do not attempt to "force" an identification of a description that you might find in the wild. For this reason, we strongly advise that the novice mushroom hunter consult MULTIPLE reliable references or an experienced nature guide that can positively identify the identity of the mushroom in question before it is eaten. Wild mushrooms should NEVER be eaten raw. 

The Magical and Mysterious Mushroom


My earliest experience as a child when it came to wild mushrooms was, "Under no circumstances, should you ever touch or eat a wild mushroom." As I grew older, that stayed with me and I found myself telling my children that same old tired line as well. This was mainly because I hadn't done enough research and had no confidence in the subject matter to lend any other reasonable explanation. Truthfully, I really think that it is because I want to keep them safe if they were alone and encountered something poisonous and they would be safer if they just didn't touch it. *I also didn't want to be the Mom who inadvertently poisoned her children because they handled and accidently ingested an Amanita bisporigera, better known as the Destroying Angel.*

There are no foragers in my family and the only mushrooms that I had ever eaten were the white button, crimini, and portobellos (all different growth stages of the same species, Agaricus bisporus) from the local grocery store. I would often run through the many acres of woods behind my Grandmother's house and jump on puff balls and watch the spores waft across the air, kick mushroom caps off of their stems, and relish in any new discoveries that a fresh fall rain brought. But that changed one day early this year in May when I encountered something totally new and exciting.

The snow was melting here in Wisconsin and I was eager to get back out and start my morning trail runs again after spending most of the winter cooped up doing contract work for KiwiCo, longing for the great outdoors. The cool mornings always gave way to warm sunny days and again to cooler nights. The air smelled earthy and Mother Nature was starting to show her beauty; small shoots were reaching towards the sky from under dead leaf litter and squirrels and chipmunks scurried beneath the forest floor in search of black walnuts. I was always so thankful (even while I winced in pain from being so out of shape) to witness those little changes on a daily basis.

One day, I was photographing a beautiful patch of lily of the valley (toxic/non-edible) that was growing on the hillside, and following them along the steep trail. As I went to put my phone away, I stopped in my tracks. I turn my head and looked down and next to a dead tree, amongst a few dandelions (edible), I encountered a mushroom that I'd never seen before in person, and immediately knew what it was; a Morel (Morchella esculenta). I composed myself and then look up to see about 20 more scattered amongst the wood chips, blending in just enough, to make them inconspicuous to the average passerby. I was stunned. I had stumbled on one of the most choice edibles in the wild and there wasn't another person in sight.

I quickly turned my running jacket into a makeshift carrying sack and pinched each tan stalk, just at the base, right above the wood chips and gave a small shake for spore dispersal. I was euphoric; one and then three more, so many Morels were going into my jacket. I felt like a small child finding easter eggs on a perfect spring morning, so I hurried back to my Jeep Wrangler to call my husband to tell him what I'd found. He was a bit leary and unsure, because he was raised just like I was when it came to wild mushrooms; "You can look, but don't touch, and most certainly not eat." I knew I needed a reference to convince him (as well as myself), so I stopped by the local bookstore on my way home and picked-up Mushrooms of the Upper Midwest by Teresa Marrone and Kathy Yerich. This fantastic book has been my go-to guide for hunting wild mushrooms. The pictures are wonderful and the information is clear and not too technical. Perfect for the novice mushroom hunter like myself.

Scanning the index, I finally found the section on Morels and proceeded to read on and learn why they were so special. Morels are only around for 3, maybe 4 weeks out of the year in the spring. I also learned that coveted Morel hunting grounds are passed down from generation to generation and are a well kept secret within families. Because Morels are mycorrhizal, meaning they often grown in a symbiotic relationship with trees (typically found around trees that have died, especially elm but also cottonwood; sometimes old fruit orchards), they typically come back in the same place season after season. On the open market, Morel mushrooms go for upwards of $35.00 a pound in farmers markets (fresh) or in grocery stores (dehydrated) for $25.00 an ounce.

After I confirmed that my finds were indeed Morels (completely hollow inside) and not Verpas spp. or the toxic False Morel (Gyromitra spp.), I soaked them to remove any bugs or spiders that might have made themselves a home. It has been said that if you water your garden with the water you used to soak the morels in, you might get lucky enough to have a few spores produce Morels the next year. So, I proceeded to water my flower box with the slurry and *fingers crossed* hope for Morels next spring. A girl can dream, amiright?!

That night I cleaned and pan-seared the Morels in butter, salt, and fresh garlic -- all four of us were hooked. The meaty texture was unlike anything my husband and I had ever tasted in our lives. The girls couldn't believe how different they were from the grocery store variety and were fascinated by the almost brain-like pitted texture of the cap, poking their tiny fingers in the holes and giggling with excitement. How many other delicious wild edibles had I avoided over 30+ years of my life because I feared death or just a really upset digestive tract? So, I broke out my Nesco dehydrator, split what we had left over, dehydrated on the lowest setting overnight, and put them in a large Mason jar with food-grade silica gel packs. (I'll occasionally just put my nose in the jar and breathe in the smell; so earthy and wonderful, there is nothing else like it in the universe.)

After that day, I have been on a mission to find out all that I can about wild mushrooms, even the toxic ones. The way I see it is like this, our children look to us for guidance and when they see how passionate we are about whatever in life makes us happy, they naturally want to take part. My girls will now stop and want to know more about the mushroom they are looking at and they are 3 and 5. I've found that they are the perfect size for hunting mushrooms because, naturally, they are just so close to the ground. I'll break out my book and we'll talk about it. I love to see the passion that they have for wild mushrooms when we are on the trail. These moments will stay with me, as treasured memories of their eagerness to connect with something that we share in as a family.

So here we are. I have been researching this issue #5 for the past few months and have learned so much. I decided that it was time to dig deep, put all of my knowledge out there, so other families might want to learn more about the magical and mysterious world of mushrooms. I've extended the deadlines for submission and want everyone to get ready for what fall has to bring. Check out our free Facebook classroom to find out where we're up to and how you can join in the fun!

You will see that I've created an identification sheet for our Facebook group and a spore print template. I do not want to see specimens in the group that not have been thoroughly researched using a trusted method, as well as a spore print.
No guessing or attempting to make your specimen "fit" the description of an edible that you're hoping for. Please understand that this learning process is not about edible mushrooms and how to find them. I want you and your family to learn about all the different types of mushrooms in your area, so you can properly identify specimens when you are out with your children or just by yourself. As the old saying goes, "Live for the Hunt". Tell yourself and children that and you'll stay grounded and focused on finding the answers that you're looking for when attempting to identify an edible species that might actually be a toxic look alike.

Thank you all as always for supporting our small family magazine. It's just me, my husband, and our two girls and we plan on passing all of this awesomeness to them as long as the Interwebs is around. Treehouse will always be a free resource for you and your tribe, and we love having such a fantastic community of like-minded families to share our journey with us!

-The Treehouse Family

Link to PDF for notebook cover: Here
My Mushroom Spore Print PDF: Here

My Mushroom Spore Print -- End Result

Link to Mycelium Experiment PDF: Here

Link to PDF for Mushroom Morphology: Here
Link to PDF for Spore Print: Here
Link to Mushroom Anatomy: Here
Link to Mush-room for Puzzles: Here
Link to explanation and full list of items: Here
Link to Mycologist self-portrait: Here
Link to PDF for Amanita Addition: Here


  1. hi,,,thanks for amazing ideas and printables...awesome!

  2. Can I use a different type mushroom other than oyster mushrooms to grow in the jar?


Contact Form


Email *

Message *