Arboretum Paths: Enjoy a mushroom walk this Saturday

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The table is laden with many different species of fungi that were collected, identified, and discussed following an Arboretum mushroom walk (Photo by Pat Drackett).

The table is laden with many different species of fungi that were collected, identified, and discussed following an Arboretum mushroom walk (Photo by Pat Drackett).

With this recent rainy weather, we’ve seen quite a few mushrooms popping up along the Arboretum’s trails. Many of these mushrooms are shades of brown, and this allows them to easily hide among the leaf litter at the edge of the pathways. Others, like the red-topped Amanitas, are easy to spot.

Fly Agaric (Amanita) mushrooms are common in the Woodland and Savanna Exhibits. Their caps are brilliant shades of orange and red, dotted with whitish warty spots. They emerge as small knobs, and will unfurl into tall parasols in only a day or two. Although this is strikingly beautiful group of mushrooms, they are some of the most toxic species in the world.

We encountered an odd mushroom-shaped structure growing on a trail last week, covered with what looked like tiny white hairs. With the recent high humidity from the daily rains, this mushroom had developed a white cobweb-like mold that was causing it to quickly rot.

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Cauliflower mushrooms (Sparassis) are sometimes seen on decaying pine roots. They resemble an undersea coral or convoluted flower with their many graceful folds. These can become quite large – well, about as big as a cauliflower – and come in lovely shades of peach, yellow, and white.
Hopefully we’ll get some relief from the rain, just enough for an exciting morning of mushroom-hunting this next Saturday, August 20 with Dr. Juan Mata, a biology professor from the University of South Alabama, who will be leading a program that begins at 10:00 a.m.

Dr. Mata will give a brief introduction to fungi and its fascinating ecology, taxonomy, and relationship to mankind. Participants will then search for specimens along the Arboretum pathways, returning to the Pinecote Pavilion for Dr. Mata’s identification and comments on their finds.

Fungi have an important relationship with humans because of the food they produce, such as bread, cheese, and wine. They also have a critical ecological importance through the partnerships they form with plants.

When you see a mushroom, you are actually only looking at the above-ground reproductive organs of a fungus. The vegetative body is underground, a network of tubular filaments.

The biggest fungi so far has been found in the Blue Mountains in Oregon. Called a “honey fungus”, it is single organism covering an area measuring approximately 1,500 acres, and is estimated to be over 2,000 years old.

A fungi is an organism that is neither plant nor animal. And although the study of fungi, called mycology, is classified as part of botany, they are more closely related to animals than plants because fungi don’t have chlorophyll and are unable to make their own food through photosynthesis.

Since they can’t make their own food, fungi rely on other organisms for nutrition. But how do they “eat”? Fungi grow on their food source, and release enzymes that dissolve the nutrients which are then absorbed into their bodies. Fungi are valuable as decomposers, because they break down the lignin in moist wood.

Some fungi form symbiotic relationships. Lichens, for example, are a combination of a fungus – which provides structure – and usually several types of algae, which can photosynthesize and provide nutrients. Sometimes this symbiosis can even contain a third partner.

Many species of mushrooms occur at the Arboretum, both edible and non-edible. But sampling any mushrooms without knowing its exact species is a recipe for trouble. If you are fascinated with fungi, consider taking regular forays with a group such as the Gulf States Mycological Society( This organization offers opportunities for year-round education and field walks.
Crosby Arboretum members will be admitted free to Saturday’s mushroom walk. The cost for non-members is $5, and $2 for non-members’ children. You’re welcome to bring gloves, pocket knife, and a paper bag or basket. If not, don’t worry, basic collecting supplies will be provided. Call 601-799-2311 to sign up for the program.
For more information see The Crosby Arboretum is located at I-59 Exit 4 and is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Patricia R. Drackett, Director and Assistant Extension Professor of Landscape Architecture
The Crosby Arboretum, Mississippi State University Extension Service