Chicken of the Woods, a common mushroom in Southeast that grows in clusters.
Alaskan Gold mushrooms grow near Auke Rec. There's conflicting research on its edibility factor.
A bear's head mushroom cluster. Martin says it tastes like lobster.
Story last updated at 9/25/2013 - 1:36 pm
Mushrooms are delicious. They're also scary - there's sometimes very little visual difference between a mushroom that will make you sick and one you don't have to worry about including in your pasta.
We've consulted a few different resources on Southeast mushrooms, including local forager Nick Martin, who supplies about 15 pounds of foraged chanterelles, boletes, and other mushrooms to The Rookery and Rainbow Foods every week, to give you information about mushrooms you might see out in the woods. This guide comes with a big disclaimer, however: Any beginning forager should go out with a knowledgeable friend the first time around, do adequate research, and forage with caution. When Martin began foraging mushrooms in Oregon, he and a friend gathered pounds of false morels, discovering only after bringing them home and consulting an expert that the mushrooms they'd gathered weren't the morels they thought they had. Martin recommends caution. "Especially down South, people get poisoned," he said.
Martin said some of the most common edible mushrooms around Southeast Alaska are chanterelles, boletes, chicken of the woods, Alaskan Gold mushrooms, coral fungi, and oyster mushrooms. We've put pictures here of some of the most recognizable edibles, as well as a few that are inedible or questionable.
The Forest Service also has a very handy pamphlet we've linked to online - "Mushrooms of the National Forests of Alaska."
Martin said in any flat place around creek drainages, mushrooms around Southeast Alaska "go nuts." Many mushroom hunters are secretive about their locations, but Martin didn't mind sharing that many of these mushrooms were found at Auke Rec.
This is a kind of coral mushroom; Martin says it's likely Ashy Coral.
Another common coral mushroom in Southeast Alaska is Crested Coral, which is in the Forest Service guide and is edible. Some kinds of coral fungi can cause stomach upset.
Chicken of the Woods
One of the most recognizable and commonly collected fungi in Southeast Alaska, Chicken of the Woods (also known as the less appetizing-sounding "sulfur shelf") grows in clusters of bright orange and yellow. It's best when fresh; when it's older it gets tough. The Forest Service guide recommends eating "the soft young outer portions of the shelf."
The Fly Agaric
One of the most recognizable mushrooms in the world, the fly agaric is credited for sending Alice to Wonderland, inducing the Vikings' notorious "beserker" state, and even for Santa Claus. (It's red, white, and popular with reindeer.) It also has color variation (yellows, reds, browns and oranges) and it's poisonous. Don't mess with this one.
According to various mycology sites, this mushroom is rare. According to the Forest Service guide, it's "fairly common, usually being found in disturbed areas, such as in parks or along roadsides." (Conflicting information seems to be a trait of the well-researched mushroom.) It's also the first mushroom this author harvested... and, after reading a bit more, threw away in an over abundance of caution. It's recognizable because of its generous dusting of yellow powder. It has gills (Rule No. 1 in Mushrooming without Fear is "Never, never take a mushroom with gills!") and apparently has a relatively large amount of hydrocyanic acid, also known as HCN. Other mushrooms, including the Shitake, contain the same chemical, but the concentration is both higher in Alaskan Gold and doesn't "cook off" as much, according to mycology sites. Some guides, however, say it's edible, and Martin survived, though he recommends not eating it while drinking alcohol.
King Bolete/ Porcini
One of the most prized mushrooms in the woods, the king bolete is recognizable because of the flared base of the fleshy stem and the spongy underside of the cap. The Forest Service guide calls it "a choice edible."
This one looks similar to the king bolete, but fruits on trees - almost always hemlock, according to the Forest Service guide - is edible, and has a lemony taste.
Pacific Golden Chanterelle
Martin found this Pacific Golden Chanterelle mushroom somewhere other than Auke Rec, but brought it so we could see what it looked like. The Forest Service guide describes it as a "very popular" edible mushroom. It smells a little like apricots and grows as far north as Haines and Yakutat.
This fungus reappears year after year in the same spot, growing on logs or stumps, though the Forest service guide says it's not common. It's edible; Martin says it tastes like lobster.
For more detailed descriptions, download the Forest Service's Southeast Alaska mushroom guide at http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5414170.pdf.
There are also lots of mushroom guides available at Hearthside Books.
Mary Catharine Martin is the staff writer for Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.