Growing Wild Mushrooms

A Complete Guide to Cultivating Edible and Hallucinogenic Mushrooms by Bob Harris

Illustrated by Susan Neri

Photographs by Bob Harris

Homestead Book Company Seattle 1989

Copyright© 1976 by Bob Harris. Revised Edition, 1978. Copyright© 1978 by Bob Harris. All Rights Reserved.

Printed in the United States of America.

Published By: Homestead Book Company

P.O. Box 31608

Seattle, Washington 98103.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 76-6613

ISBN: 0-930180-12-7

Eighth Printing: 1989


"anything of lasting value will, once digitized and spread on the world wide web, exist and be available to all until the end of the Technological Era." THE DIGITAUS PROJECT: DIGITIZING THE 20th CENTURY


An Introduction to the Mushroom / i A Note on Cultivation / 19 Equipment for Sterile Culture Work / 20

Transfer Chamber or Glove Box / Sterilizer Media / 24

Maying and Pouring Agar Media / Grain Media / Compost / Indoor and Small Quantities Starting Cultures / 46

Gathering Materials / Sterile Technique / Spore Streaming on Agar / Sterile Removal of Tissue from Freshly Gathered Mushrooms / Transfer from the Agar Media / Transfer from Grain to Grain / Transfer to Compost {Non-sterile) Incubation / 58

Agar / Gra/fl / Compost Sources of Materials / 68 North American P$ilocybin Mushrooms / 73

bibliography / 87

Mycelium growing on compost

An Introduction to the Mushroom

This is a book about you, me, and mushrooms. Just what is a mushroom? This basic question is a good place to begin. A mushroom is a class of fungi. Where are fungi found, and how do they grow? Although some of you may know some of the answers to these questions, let's talk about fungi in general before discussing specifically the various varieties of fungal fruits.

Fungi are plants and are unique in their specialization. They belong to a segment of life we call the decomposers. They lack chlorophyll, and thus cannot use direct sunlight for their energy as most plants do. Instead, they possess special enzymes and chemicals that decompose the life around them containing stored energy, usually in the form of sugars and starches. All fungi require some other organized life for their food support. Generally, fungi will be found living on wood, leaf mulch, or on soil in which the presence of dung provides a source of these sugars and starches.

Fungi are classified according to the type of relationship they have with their environment. If the fungus lives directly on the living organism without benefitting the host, we call this a parasitic relationship. If the fungus is living on dead material such as a tree stump, we call this second type <>l relationship saprophytic. A third type of relationship, in between these two, is called mycorrhizal-symbiotic. In this relationship the fungus is associated with the root of a green plant, but will not overcome it. In return for the supplying of certain chemicals or nutrients by the tree or plant the fungus breaks down other nutrients or interacts with metals making them utilizable by the tree or plant. Many of the fungi that have been discovered in recent years have been found to be mycorrhizal in their relationship. Understanding these basic life styles of fungi allows us to predict where we might best find mushrooms growing in the wild. Each species of mushroom inhabits a specific environment and is precise in the way that its chemistry is adapted to a specific host or environment. For example, the well known Amanita muscaria grows in association with the roots of pine or birch trees because it is mycorrhizal. In the case of the cultivated Agaricus brunnescens, a dung associated mushroom of the saprophytic type, we would look in a well manured pasture (see plate 2). The "honey mushroom", Armillaria, is a parasite which we would expect to find growing on a tree stump.

Let's talk more about the classification of fungi in order to understand the life cycle of the organism. Mushrooms are the most advanced form of fungi. When a botanist classifies a fungus as advanced or primitive, he is referring to its reproductive structures. Lower fungi, those that are considered more primitive, are generally simple in their organization. A spore germinates and cells grow out from the spore. The spores are organized into filaments we call hyphae. Each hypha has the capacity to divide and produce other hyphae. If one chops a hypha into pieces, each piece has the capacity to begin a new cycle and produce more hyphae. This principle of vegetative reproduction is basic to plants and distin guishes them from higher animals. When a group of hyphae grow and become a dense mat, whether on your Petri plate or in the wild, this is called mycelium. As the mycelium grows and develops, it produces stalks that bear spore-containing capsules called sporangia. These sporangia break open and release their spores, and the life cycle is complete. Examples of these lower forms of fungi are water molds, slimes, and things that rot out lawns and trees.

Climbing the complexity scale, we reach the higher fungi. These are divided into two groups, (i) the Ascomycetes and (2) the Basidiomycetes. The true mushroom is a Basi-diomycete as are rusts, smuts and jelly fungi. The Ascomycetes, probably the largest and most well known class of fungi, includes yeasts, bread molds, penicillins, and a variety of different kinds of mushrooms, including the prized morel. The Ascomycetes are characterized by a spore-bearing sac called an ascus. Inside the ascus are 8 or fewer elongate spores called ascospores. The ascii are in turn found on the surface of a fruiting structure called an ascocarp and at the appropriate time the sacs break open and release all their spores. In the Basidiomycetes the spores form in a structure shaped like a cows udder called a basidium and the fruiting body is known as a basidiocarp, i.e., a mushroom (see fig. 1).

In these higher fungi, as with most of the plant kingdom, there is a vegetative and a reproductive part of the life cycle. I n vegetative growth the spore germinates and grows out to form hyphae which in turn form mycelia. At this point you may find vegetative spores being formed. The hyphae will form a mat and a piece of reproductive tissue that has not undergone genetic reproduction. These spores can be germinated into hyphae to complete the vegetative cycle. When conditions are right, the second type of reproductive cycle

will occur. The hyphae continue on to form organized tissue, ascii or basidia, in which meiosis (genetic recombination) and chromosome reduction takes place. In each cell the number of chromosomes double and then separate leaving each new spore with a recombination of the genetic information.

Identification of plants is very often based on the reproductive structures, such as the flowers and fruit, the pollen, or the spores. When collecting mushrooms in the woods, we see only the reproductive structures and by studying these structures we are able to identify the various species. Since the mycelium is contained in the tree or underground, it is usually not visible. Generally, the mycelium will stay in the area and continue to grow as long as there are sufficient nutrients and proper conditions. During the weeks or months that the mycelium is hidden from view, it is digesting and spreading through the substrate, storing nutrients to be used in the burst of energy which sends forth the fruiting body.

When specific conditions are right it will send up the mushroom that we see. This spore-containing structure is called a carpophore (or an ascocarp; basidiocarp) and can be collected or observed through its spore deposit. The variation in the fruiting bodies is incredible and you will find fungi to be among the most beautiful creatures on the forest floor. Their growth rate is very rapid, especially in the case of the fungi that live in fields on manure or hay.

The chief factor in the growth and development of the fungi is water. In final form they are approximately 90% water. They need a high rate of humidity in order to germinate their spores and grow. This does not mean that the air has to be humid, although this helps. If you look at the forest floor many days after it has rained, you will find that under the top layer of leaves it is still very humid. In this layer of mulch there is a fairly constant amount of moisture in which bacteria and fungi grow. It is in this environment that we are most likely to find the fungi. With the necessary amount of water, the fungus can then activate all its chemicals and begin the process of decomposing animal or vegetable material that is already organized.

The role of the fungi is to prepare the material which has been organized in green plants or in animals for return to the earth, breaking down the nutrients which newly forming plants and animals can utilize. Fungi are a necessary part of nature, responsible for completion of the system and making it possible for some plants to live over thousands of years. The fungi don't do this alone but in conjunction with bacteria. When growing the commercial Agaricus, the common store mushroom, I found that it has an innate association with bacteria and other lower fungi. When one prepares the compost on which it is grown, there is a whole succession of lower organisms, both bacterial and fungal, which break down the cellulose before the straw and manure is acceptable to the mushroom. Once the compost is inoculated the mycelium requires the presence of certain algae and bacteria to form and stimulate the growth of the fruiting body. Thus throughout the entire life cycle, a fungus has an innate association with other decomposing organisms.

As a protection against some of these organisms, fungi often produce strong chemical compounds. These may be bacteriostatic, inhibiting the growth of certain bacteria in order to regulate the environment of the fungi. This is the source of such antibiotic chemicals as penicillin. Production of these chemicals is specific to the needs of the fungi for a specific environment, and various chemicals will be either present or absent accordingly. Plants, unlike animals, are unable to change their environment. Therefore they have developed a wide variety of chemicals in order to protect themselves and to allow for the continued survival and reproduction of their species. Man has found a great many uses for some of these chemicals. For instance, the yeasts that, under certain conditions, produce alcohol are the basis for a very large industry. Yeasts also produce vitamin B and are thus valuable nutritionally.

On the other hand, some of these chemicals which are produced by the fungi have no known reason for their existence. Some of the poisons found in the Amanita varities have no known relationship to the protection of the organism or regulation of its environment. Yet they are very complex and potent poisons. Obviously, many of these fungi are not for human consumption.

It is absolutely critical that each person who decides to become involved with fungi takes the time to educate himself thoroughly. This is not restricted to classes taken at a university, for there are most definitely other sources of information. Your local Mycological Society would be a good place to start. When going into the woods to identify fungi, it is necessary to have a person along who has training or background in fungi identification and a thorough familiarity with a field guide. It takes time to learn to identify various fungi, each with its own set of characteristics. It was once my good fortune to go on a mushroom hunt with a band of professional mycologists led by the famous mushroom authority, Dan Stuntz. Such a hunt is called a foray, and its purpose is to collect and discuss as many species as possible in order to broaden the understanding of all. I was most impressed with this expert's ability to greet each mushroom anew and either identify it or, refraining from absolute identification, give out what knowledge he had. When wandering through the splendor of the woods, you must gain or regain this kind of childlike curiosity. With an open and sensitive search and a keen, receptive mind, you will soon be able to get a feeling for the relations between various species of fungi and their environments. Once you have an understanding of this relationship, you can then make periodic trips into the woods during the rainy season and see fungi fruiting again and again. Many of them will continue to come up in the same spot in which you have previously found them, making less work for the hunter. In the case of the fairy ring mushroom, we know that they continually grow out of an area where a tree has been. Year after year, the nutrients are digested by the fairy ring and the circle grows larger and larger. In the case of the fungi that grow

Veil remnant_

figure 2

Annulus (ring)

Universal veil

Veil remnant_

figure 2

Universal veil

Annulus (ring)

Below Ground ( substrate )

Mycelium (spawn)

Below Ground ( substrate )

Mycelium (spawn)

directly on wood, such as oyster mushrooms, or "chicken-of-the-woods", we need only come back each year to see it growing out of the same tree. Generally, the mycologist will go into the woods looking for certain fungi at certain times of the year knowing which will be evident. By having some such authority along, you will know which mushroom is best left in the ground, and which to take home to the dinner tabic.

In order to identify the fungus, we will have to identify which structures are distinguishing factors. Involved in this identification process are the names of the various structures and parts of the mushroom (see fig 2). A true mushroom, as wc know it, is a Basidiomycete. This means that the spores arise on udder-like structures on the gills under the cap of the mushroom (see fig. i). The stalk of the mushroom is called a stipe. The gills of a mushroom are called lamellae and contain hymenia, which is the fruiting and support structure for the basidia which bear the spores. The cap is called the pileus. When the mushroom is small, there may be a veil, a sheath covering the gills. When the mushroom gets older and this veil breaks, it may stay on the stipe or form a ring around it called an annulus. There is a wide variation among species however, and many do not have what is called a persistent veil or annulus. Many mushrooms do not even have true gills. For the most part we will be talking about mushrooms that do have gills, and the botanical family in which they are located is called Agaricaceae. Some of the Agaricaceae at the small button stage are encapsulated in a sheath called a volva. This is true of all the Amanita genus. As the mushroom grows larger, the volva breaks and there remains usually an annulus or a veil and a cup deep in the soil at the base of the stipe. It is important to learn the names of the structures, but not necessarily the scientific names. "Gills" is as good as lamellae; "stem" as good as stipe; "ring" as good as annulus.

I have been collecting for five years and am only a beginner at identifying the wild fungi. I am gradually learning to see the wide variation that exists in these basic structures. In some cases, the particular structure may not be present. In other cases the same structure may be exaggerated or amply present. Look carefully at each specimen and examine each structural part.

A very helpful method of identifying fungi is to make a spore print. To do this, set the mushroom cap on a piece of paper and cover it with a bowl overnight. Upon lifting the

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