It’s a good time to be fungi
If you thought you had spotted more mushrooms sprouting this season, you’re right.
David Babik, a lawyer by profession and a fungi guy by passion, said the recent wet weather has created the “perfect storm” for mushrooms to thrive.
“This year is different than others,” Babik said.
The rain and the cool, cloudy days have led to prolific mushroom “fruiting,” Babik said, and in turn a heightened interest in the subject.
At the Boston Mycological Club, which dates to 1895 and bills itself as the country’s oldest amateur group dedicated to the study of fungi, attendance at weekly mushroom season meetings has been exceptionally high, he said.
“You get a year like this, and everyone wants to learn about mushrooms,” Babik said.
The mycological club also hosts weekly foraging walks during fruiting season, which runs from August through October. Members bring samples to Harvard University’s Farlow Herbarium and identify them as a group.
What hikers and foragers can see of the mushrooms is just the tip of the iceberg, he said. The visible portions, including the cap, are called the “fruiting body.” The actual fungal organism is a much larger unseen web, either in the ground or in decaying wood, called the mycelium.
As amateur interest in foraging season peaks, Babik offers this advice to eager mushroom hunters: When in doubt, don’t eat it.
“Anything you’re not entirely sure about, you shouldn’t put near your mouth,” he said.
Wild mushrooms should only be eaten after making certain they are nonpoisonous, and after thoroughly cleaning and cooking them.
Fresh-looking, young mushrooms are the best to eat. If you wouldn’t buy them in a store, don’t pick them in the wild, Babik said.
One deadly species, destroying angel, is commonly found on the East and West coasts. Even a small bite of the all-white mushroom can cause severe sickness. And when victims think the worst has passed, their liver and kidneys will have already begun to shut down.
A relative newcomer to the world of mycology, Babik quickly learned of the exactness required to indulge in foraging yields about six years ago, when he unwittingly brought a poisonous species back to a campsite for dinner. He was met by panic.
“I realized it was a lot bigger of a project than I imagined,” he said.