SEATTLE -- Fall opens the door to all kinds of outdoor opportunities, and mushroom foraging in the woods is a top contender.
As the first heavy rainfalls of autumn arrive many will head out in search of the matsutake (Japanese pine mushrooms), boletes and chanterelles, and a variety of other edible mushrooms that call the Pacific Northwest home.
Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of a fungus. Most area fungi that attract local mushroom hunters grow in a symbiotic relationship with our region's wide variety of plants and trees.
Areas dense with Douglas firs, Ponderosa pine, white and red firs, and mountain and western hemlocks are breeding grounds for a variety of popular mushrooms. Their habitat is usually confined to a small area around tree-covered areas.
Other good sources for mushrooms to breed are huckleberry and rhododendrons that create shading, forest duff like fern and moss, leaves and dense soil that retain water from rain.
There are many areas of the Cascade and Olympic mountains that are host for mushrooms, but it is not unusual to find edible mushrooms within the city or in outlying rural areas covered with trees.
Some of the best places to find matsutake are east side slopes in the Cascades and Olympics where Douglas fir forests start to mix with Ponderosa and where other pines of Central Washington start to take over.
Typically the ideal time to find mushrooms is in the fall after the first heavy rainfall under moderate temperatures of around 50 to 60 degrees, coupled with a gradual cooling. Once the first frost occurs many mushroom species will begin to die off.
By far one of the most popular mushrooms to harvest is the Japanese matsutake (Armillaria ponderosa), which has a distinct smell, and an ivory cap with tan and brownish fibers.
Chanterelles also are found in good numbers before and after the start of the matsutake season.
Often times the matsutake are covered by duff and are hard to find without considerable practice. In some cases as it grows, it pushes up the soil and duff creating raised areas or bumps. These bumps will need to be looked at by lifting the cover, and sometimes requires one to get on their hands and knees.
Matsutake gathering regulations vary from forest to forest, and most important how they're picked from the ground and daily limits. To be sure you're legal always cut the matsutake leaving a small portion of the base in the ground. For details, go to www.psms.org/MushroomRules.pdf.
Once the matsutake is removed always cover up the area where you found it to protect exposed mycelium.
Those new or seeking to spruce up on the mushroom harvesting scene might want to attend the Puget Sound Mycological Society's Wild Mushroom Show, noon-7 p.m. Oct. 16, and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 17 at the University of Washington's Center For Urban Horticulture, 3501 N.E. 41st St. in Seattle.
This is one of the largest and oldest mushroom exhibits, and there will be slide shows and lectures hosted by noted authors such as Taylor Lockwood, Dr. Britt Bunyard and Debbie Viess.
There will be experienced mushroom identifiers on hand to tell you about your finds (wild mushroom should always be properly identified before being consumed). Chefs will also be on hand preparing mushrooms, and the show will also have fresh samples of local mushrooms, photography displays, mushroom field guide books, and classes and field trip opportunities. Cost is $9. Details: www.psms.org.