However, the other day, as I walked through an area in Howath Park where children get pony rides on weekends, I noticed a large pile of horse manure with several mushrooms sprouting merrily out of it. Imagine my joy at finding mushrooms, any mushrooms! That they were fruiting in manure was an added bonus because it meant that I would be able to more easily identify them.
Most mushrooms are saprophytic. That is, they nourish themselves by growing on dead organic matter such as fallen trees, dead insects and animals, fallen leaves and excrement. In the process, the mushrooms decompose the material they feed on, providing what I like to think of as essential janitorial services for the forests and meadows that I walk in. Saprophytic mushrooms are often specialists, so if you find one in, say, horse manure, then it won't be too difficult to find out that you're looking at Panaeolus papilionaceus. Oh, and if you like learning new words then you'll be happy to know that mushrooms that feed on manure are coprophilous.
Disturbingly, during the research for this post I found that this is considered an edible mushroom. Uh, bon appétit?
The sketches were done with graphite, ink, watercolor, gouache, colored pencil on 8.5 x 11 inch Canson mi-teintes paper. The black circle at the top right is a spore print from one of the mushrooms, an essential identification aid.
More about the ways fungi nourish themselves:
The Royal Horticultural Society
The Hidden Forest
Especially the coprophilous varieties:
And about Panaeolus papilionaceus:
The Fungi of California