The region’s soggy summer has ruined weekends, flooded basements, and cast a gloomy pall on the usually brightest of seasons.
But there’s one thing that’s not just thriving through the muggy drear, but loving it: mushrooms.
They seem to be everywhere, residents say — bigger, bolder than ever.
The fungi flourish in moist conditions, and the abnormal amount of rainfall that has hit New England this summer. Those who study mushrooms, known as mycologists, say the growth this season has been extreme.
“The woods are just bursting with mushrooms,” David Hibbett, a mycologist at Clark University, said. “They tend to frequent places that are moist, that’s why we’re seeing so many of them this year.”
Mushrooms are the reproductive structure of a fungus, Hibbett said, meaning they are only a small part of the object. They produce spores that allow the fungus to propagate itself.
Although most common mushrooms are in shades of brown and white, others are extremely colorful.
“Anybody who walks around in the woods will see all the different colors,” Hibbett said. “There are chemically distinct pigments that give them their unique colors.”
Carin Irr, 57, was walking in the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge about two weeks ago when she stumbled upon a mushroom resembling the shape and color of a hamburger bun.
“It was a little bigger than a grapefruit,” the Cambridge resident said. “I’ve seen ones that are bigger than usual this summer.”
Irr’s interest in mushrooms began during the thick of the coronavirus pandemic when she took frequent hikes. The odd-looking mushrooms are her favorite, she said, and she most often photographs them.
When she does pick them, she likes to cut them in half and put them on pieces of paper to take spore prints, a popular way of identifying the mushroom. The spores form prints onto the piece of paper, making it a great art piece, she said.
According to Hibbett, if you find an odd-looking mushroom in your yard, the first matter of business is celebration. “You should celebrate that you’ve got this weird and beautiful and amazing thing in your backyard.”
If you have small children or pets, you can remove any mushrooms that look odd or unusual, or prevent kids or pets from going near the area, just in case the mushrooms are poisonous, Hibbett said.
While he said most mushrooms are not poisonous, Hibbett warned against eating any mushroom that you’re not “absolutely 100 percent certain about.” In some cases, poisonous mushrooms can be fatal.
“Even if the mushroom is listed as edible in the field guides, if it’s the first time you’re trying it, you should eat just a little bit because there’s always a risk of getting sick,” he said.
Patrice Denault, 63, said she was surprised to see some unusual mushrooms in her backyard in Reading.
“I see mushrooms in our yard a lot, but this one was very unusual,” she said. “It was like, ‘Wow, look at this funky mushroom.’ I was intrigued right away.”
Despite the danger, she ended up cooking and eating the mushrooms she found.
Luckily for her, they did not make her sick. “They were delicious,” she said.
Rosanna Zuckerman, 39, is more cautious. The Melrose resident spotted what she called a “jagged trio” of mushrooms in her backyard.
“It’s not something to do lightly, you really need to know what you’re doing with mushrooms,” she said. “I have no idea what I’m doing, so I do not pick them or ingest them.
Zuckerman has begun going on guided walks with mushroom enthusiasts and foragers in order to learn more about the fungi.
“Learning about the plants I actually see makes the walks so much more enjoyable,” she said. “I’m just kind of focused on learning the basics.”