2017-09-06 / Front Page

Mushrooms abound

When it rains, it spores: wet summer boosts wild mushrooms
by Kate Shunney

Some local mushroom hunters weren’t so pleased with their spring morel harvest this year. Back in early spring, it seemed like a bad year for those in the market for forest fungus. Fast forward to August, and the forest changed its tune.

Thanks to record wet weather in July, Morgan County’s woods and yards have been sprouting an impressive array of mushrooms.

West Virginia University mycologist (fungus expert) Dan Panaccione says he’s been asked plenty about this summer’s mushroom scene.

There’s a simple answer for the abundance of colorful fungus: it rained a lot, and the weather was mild.

Rain data from the National Weather Service puts July of 2017 as the wettest July since 2005. More than seven inches of rain fell this July, compared to a norm of four inches.

The mid-summer rain provided just what the fungus needed.

“The fungus itself is always present in the ground and in the woods,” said Panaccione. The thread-like network of fungus, called mycelium, is always underfoot and in forests.


All of these mushrooms were photographed on the same August afternoon at the Widmeyer Wildlife Management Area west of Berkeley Springs. Top row, from left, show: a Russula species that are symbiotic with trees, a coral fungus (Clavicorona pyxidata), and another Russula mushroom. Middle row, from left, are: a Tylopilus species with spores under the cap, a Boletus species and a Russula aeruginea. Bottom row, from left: Cortinarius alboviociolaceus, a waxy cap variety and Hygrocybe coccinea, from the waxy cap family. 
Mushroom identification supplied by Prof. Dan Panaccione All of these mushrooms were photographed on the same August afternoon at the Widmeyer Wildlife Management Area west of Berkeley Springs. Top row, from left, show: a Russula species that are symbiotic with trees, a coral fungus (Clavicorona pyxidata), and another Russula mushroom. Middle row, from left, are: a Tylopilus species with spores under the cap, a Boletus species and a Russula aeruginea. Bottom row, from left: Cortinarius alboviociolaceus, a waxy cap variety and Hygrocybe coccinea, from the waxy cap family. Mushroom identification supplied by Prof. Dan Panaccione “When the conditions are right, they produce the fruiting bodies,” he said. Those fruiting bodies are the mushrooms we see in yards, on tree stumps and trunks and on the forest floor.

“Their whole purpose is to come up for a few days just to drop spores,” Professor Panaccione said. Afterwards, the mushrooms start to decay, turning slimy and dark and rotting back into the ground.


A speckled rounded cap and textured underside distinguish this mushroom. photo by Elaine Clark A speckled rounded cap and textured underside distinguish this mushroom. photo by Elaine Clark But while they are above ground, local mushrooms catch the eye of residents, photographers and nature enthusiasts.

Morgan County residents have been spotting unusually large mushrooms growing from trees, wide rings of fungus emerging in their yards and a constant supply of new mushrooms in local forests.

Elaine Clark, a photographer in Berkeley Springs, is known for taking family and individual portraits as Mountain Momma Photography. Nature photography is her passion. This summer, her camera has been trained on the colorful array of mushrooms in the woods around her house, at Cacapon State Park and other spots in the county.


Groups of mushrooms are often found at the base of a tree. Tree roots supply nutrients for the mushrooms and vice versa. photo by Elaine Clark Groups of mushrooms are often found at the base of a tree. Tree roots supply nutrients for the mushrooms and vice versa. photo by Elaine Clark “It's been an amazing year for mushrooms. The weather has been perfect for them and the variety is over the top. Seems like there are new and different ones every day,” Clark said.

She said the mushroom variety has been changing all season, and she’s seen some this year that she’s never encountered, or only spotted once or twice in the 16 years she’s lived at her home east of Berkeley Springs.

For Clark, the “mushies” are a particular draw for her lens. She said the variety of colors and textures, and the minute detail are what she likes best.

“They don't last long so you have to catch them at just the right time. The details are my favorite part.....the things you don't notice unless you stop and really look. It's an ever-changing subject with all the varieties and colors,” Clark said.

WVU’s Panaccione said the variety of colors, sizes and shapes of mushrooms is controlled by the underground network from which it grows.

Some kinds of fungus need more water than others to produce a mushroom. Others need certain temperatures to fruit. There are spring and fall mushrooms, each with their own ideal natural conditions.

Panaccione said the colors of forest fungus don’t have a clear purpose. It’s not like the bright orange ones are trying to attract birds or animals to eat them and spread their spores, he said. By the same token, purple or bright yellow caps aren’t warning people and animals of poison inside. He said the mystery of mushroom color and shape has to do with the mycelium underground.

“The organisms that produce them are always there, under the soil. If you could dig it up, every centimeter of the forest would have fungus in it,” he said.

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