Saturday, February 25, 2012


It's been crazy dry here in northern California this winter. We had some promising rain early in the season and then high pressure systems wheeled around above us, pushing storms to the north or the south or the east, essentially anywhere but here. As a consequence, I haven't seen much fungi this winter, partly because there just wasn't enough moisture and partly because the lack of rain kept the fallen leaves from decomposing, leaving ankle deep piles of crisp, light leaves which, in turn, hid the mushrooms that did fruit. As I've walked through the woods I've occasionally seen withered old specimens uprooted in areas that have been disturbed by squirrels or other creatures rooting around for food.

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



  1. Mushrooms! I've missed your mushrooms. I'm sorry you are having a poor mushroom year. We do need rain, don't we.

    Lovely sketches.

  2. You're brave collecting mushrooms and eating them! I guess if you are with other people who know what they are looking for it might make it better. spore syringe