September marks National Mushroom Month since many fungi start appearing this time of year. Whether you’re looking for mushrooms to eat, to use for making botanical dye, or just because you plain old appreciate them and find them fascinating, September is a great time to search for fungus. As the temperature drops and the late summer rains create a moist environment, perfect for growing fungi.

To celebrate Mushroom Month, I participated in the #FallFungiMadness challenge on Instagram, put on by Sue Fields and Tiny Kate Creates. Each scientific illustration tells a story of the fungal species, from highlighting their role as decomposers, to why the fungus is the color it is, to how to distinguish between edible fungi and their toxic look-alikes! What I love the most about the challenge is that with each illustration I do, I grow in my understanding of fungi and I get to see what about that species other artists find fascinating and choose to highlight.

Below, you’ll get to see some of my pieces from the #FallFungiChallenge!

Wine Cap (Stropharia sp.)

These saprophytic, edible mushrooms rely on already dead organic matter, which makes mulch garden beds, bark chip playgrounds, and natural trails a perfect spot to find these wine-colored mushrooms. Keep your eye out for these edible mushrooms growing in March-May (depending on the year’s climate) here in Pennsylvania.

As many mushrooms age, they change color. This can be attributed to them trying to attract animals as spore dispersers, staying warm, or keeping moist. These Wine Caps are no different! They start out wine-red, then fade to a tannish-gray as they age. 

Chanterelles (Cantharellus sp.)

Chanterelles are a testament to the importance of being able to distinguish between edible mushrooms and their toxic look-alikes. A false Chanterelle may look similar at first, however it has some important differences. First, they have hollow stipes. Second, the gills may be more distinct, rather than ridged, like the true Chanterelles. Some mushrooms also have a distinct scent, and the Chanterelle is one of them! These mushrooms have a slightly fruity scent, which can help you distinguish between them and other similar looking species.

Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sp.)

While many fungi do have toxic look-alikes and can make foraging difficult for beginners, the Chicken of the Woods is a great mushroom to start your foraging journey with! These are distinct mushrooms, with very few, if any look-alikes. Despite being both saprophytic and parasitic, meaning that they do kill their host tree and feed on the dead wood later, they are so nutritious for humans! They range in color from a bright yellow to deep, almost reddish orange and always grow in a thick shelf form on the lower portion of the trunks of trees. If you get the chance, take a look at the bottom side of the shelf fungus. The mushrooms should have pores, rather than gills, and no stem, which makes them distinct. This being said, be very careful harvesting any wild mushrooms – do not ingest without being sure of its identity. Bring a field guide or mycologist with you on your foraging journey.

Death Cap (Amanita phalloides)

Universal Veil Remnants are some iconic features of Amanita fungi. The bulbous base seen here is called the volva, and is the bottom remnant of the veil. This veil protects the mushroom as it grows. When the mushroom gets big enough, the top and bottom portion of the veil split apart. Some Amanita mushrooms still have remnants of the veil on the top of their cap (those white spots on the bright red Fly Agaric), some have skirts around the stipe right underneath the cap, but all Amanitas, including the Death Cap, have that bulbous volva. 

As the name suggests, it is one of the deadliest mushrooms in the world, destroying the kidney and liver cells of those unfortunate enough to eat them. Understanding how to identify mushroom spores, shape & color at various life stages, and anatomy is so integral to get their ID correct. 

Witches Hat (Hygrocybe conica)

Waxcaps are a group of fungi that, as the name suggests, have slippery caps. This can help the fungus spread their spores. The Witches Hat, named for its shape and its eventual color change to black over time, is also a wax cap. When young, the mushroom starts out pointy and vibrant yellow-orange. When the mushroom gets damaged, bruising occurs and the damaged portion turns black rather quickly. As the mushroom naturally ages it fades to a greenish-gray, and then to black.

More Things Fungi!

Do you love these fungi as much as I do? While I don’t recommend foraging for fungi unless you are beyond 100% sure of its identity (without a shadow of a doubt….), there are some other great ways to get your fill of fungi! You can find some mushroom prints in my shop, as well as take my online botanical illustration course “Focus on Fungi”! In that 50 minute course, you’ll learn more about mushroom anatomy and fungi taxonomy, as well as some helpful illustration tips for drawing fungi. Plus, find these illustrations and others from previous FallFungi Challenges in sticker format.  Supporting The Art of Ecology through the online shop or by becoming a Patron at any tier on Patreon can help keep educational content coming!

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