Mushroom Foray Etiquette

Mushroom Foray Etiquette

The festival has come and gone, the rains have begun and there are signs that the fungi may be starting to show up.  The spots that have, for the last few years, always been dependable places  I could find some of my favorite species are late.  Some are between 2 and 4 weeks late.

This leads me to think that the effects of climate change are beginning to happen and our coastal area is starting to warm. With climate changes, we are likely to see changes in speciation.  Who knows, just as butterflies are appearing in Artic where they have never been found before, we may start to see different mushroom species fruiting, and ones we have always seen, disappearing.

But this is not my main topic for today.  Today I want to talk about foray etiquette.  What are the do’s and don’ts of picking mushrooms with large groups or with just a couple of friends.

Picking with neophytes, who have never done any foraging, will be different than if you are out with other experienced pickers. With experienced pickers, you tend to spread out more and pick almost like you are on a solo foray, head down, scanning the forest floor, systematically covering a slope.  Often there is very little chatter, unless you come upon a motherlode of chanterelles and your basket is almost full.  That’s when you yell to your partner to come over and help in the picking.

It is quite a bit different if you are with some newbies.  Usually the new pickers are really excited and stick close to you.  There is a lot more chatter and exclamation as they pick every mushroom they see and come stumbling to you, arm extended with usually a Russula or Cortinarius and asking “can you eat it?”  Most often the response is ‘Yes….every mushroom is edible once”.  After a few seconds they get the joke and laugh, but they continue to pick everything they see and come running back to ask you the same question “Is this edible?” . It does get tiring, but there is no better way of learning mushroom identification than by doing field work.

Usually, but not often, I am the first to identify the edibles.  When that happens, I will call a halt and invite everyone to come over and see what it looks like in the duff.  One of the cardinal rules is to step carefully around the specimen, as quite often where there is one there are several.  I then show them how to harvest them….this is the subject of another whole discussion…cut, pinch or pull.  I will leave that for another time.

The usual response of a newbie  is “I walked right by that and didn’t see it.  How did you see it?”  The answer is practice and familiarization.  I don’t actually focus on anyone characteristic, other than “difference” from the general background of the forest floor.  It can be colour, shape or even smell (I usually can smell pine mushrooms before I see them).

Now that the new shroomer kind of knows what to look for, off we go again.  In short order someone yells “I think I have found some” and everyone runs over to the spot and starts to pick.  This is a serious breach of picking etiquette.  Do come over, congratulate the picker on their find, but never start picking someone else’s patch unless invited to do so.

When I am out with novice pickers, I will always invite them to pick in my patch, if there is enough to pick.  Sometimes there are just a few, so either I pick them or invite the novice to pick them. Another basic principal of learning is reinforcement and reward.  Reinforce the identification with the reward of mushrooms to take home.

I generally will pick more mushrooms than the novice (due to a better trained eye and nose).  At the end of a foray, we will often lay out the mushrooms we have found and identify them.  That is when I share the bounty, great or small, so that everyone goes home with something. Not everyone agrees with me on this point, but it builds comradery and gives everyone a chance to taste new mushrooms.

One other important rule of etiquette, deals with when a friend takes you to one of their “special” sites. Always be thankful,  never visit the site without your friend, or tell another when the site is.  There is a lot of competition for those “great picking sites”, and as more and more of our local forests are logged, many of the remaining sites get over picked.

There are also a number of other rules that I live by.  Never pick every mushroom in a patch, for several reasons.

  1. Leave some to spread their spores for next year
  2. Leave some for our forest brothers and sisters
  3. Leave some for the other shroomers who may consider this as their “special” place
  4. Don’t pick mushrooms you don’t intend to take home…if they are not edibles, used in dyeing or for medicine, leave them standing.
  5. Leave the forest like you were never there.

If any of you have other rules, let me know.

Hope to see you on the trails someday…Coastalshroomer