Late July 2014: Scouting the White Mountains and Mogollon Rim

The week following the successful foray on Mt. Lemmon, it was time to return to the White Mountains and see if the three or four inches of rain received in the interim had woken up the mycelium since our first visit of the year.

As I drove into Show Low on July 29, the sight of dark rain clouds over the distant green slopes of the White Mountains gladdened my heart.

White Mountains as seen from Show Low

Passing through McNary, it was evident there had been considerable rain recently, with puddles of standing water in many places. Right in McNary village, on the south side of the road, I caught sight of my first find of the day: a big cluster of large brownish-orange mushrooms growing from a stump. This was a really spectacular discovery, although only of academic and photographic interest. Alas, these appeared to be Gymnopilus junionis, formerly G. spectabilis, a gigantic and conspicuous member of the Cortinaceae family that is altogether inedible.

Note the very large cap size, with a shoe for comparison in the first picture. There is a stout stem with a conspicuous annular ring, and a large amount of dusty orange spores that accumulate on the ring and underlying stump (third picture.) In some parts of the world, this species is said to produce the hallucinogenic compound psilocybin, but those who have tried the Western US version usually report no hallucinogenic effect. Because of some overlap with the features of the deadly poisonous Galerina marginatus/autumnalis, only a fool would experiment with this species for recreational intoxication.

Wolf Recovery

The “Wolf Recovery Area” sign on FR117 gave me a thrill, as always, and I hoped that this would be the trip where I might hear a wolf howl for the first time ever. My cattle-ranching grandfather, and some of my other relatives who are still in the business, were beyond disgusted with the notion of reintroducing a predator they had worked hard to exterminate in the previous century. But I am secretly glad there is one small corner of the state where this remnant of wild America still hangs on by a thread. I hope the friends of the wolf, the cattle ranchers, and the relevant government agencies can come to an accommodation that allows them to survive here while still compensating the ranchers for their very real losses to depredation.

I hurried on to meet friends in the Greens Peak area for the beginning of the real foray. First I returned to my Sparassis log, with the same lack of success as two weeks previously. However, no more than a hundred yards deeper into the forest, I came across a small Sparassis radicata (aka S. crispa) growing on the ground, presumably from decaying underground roots.  It was still bug-free, and into the basket it went. This was the second Sparassis I had found in one week, so I was mightily pleased.

Driving onwards, we passed some Shaggy Manes (Coprinus comatus) growing by the side of the road. This is a fairly common and easily-identified species, and a good but not great edible, that favors disturbed soil along roadsides and trails. Most of these mushrooms were starting to deliquesce into black ink, but there were some fresh white ones that we collected for the table.

It is commonly said that this species should not be consumed with alcohol, but that is an error.  It is rather the inky cap, Coprinopsis atramentaria, that interferes with the metabolism of ethanol. These two mushrooms that both break down to inky black liquid are now known to be only distantly related and have been placed in different genera. I ate a large serving of the shaggy manes for supper that night, with several good-sized glasses of wine, and suffered no ill effects whatsoever

There were also some decaying coral mushrooms of the genus Ramaria, some turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) stained bright green by algae, and a scaly-vase false chanterelle, Gomphus floccosus, among others. However, no boletes or true chanterelles were discovered.

One curious specimen that I had not seen before was a slender mushroom with a slimy pink cap that we keyed out to a pink spike-cap, Gomphidius subroseus. This relative of the pine spike (Chroogomphus tomentosus) is supposed to be fairly common under Douglas firs in the west, and that is indeed where we found it, with forest-floor litter sticking to its markedly viscid cap. Slicing it in half lengthwise displayed the yellow staining at the base of the stipe that this species is known for, and we also were able to peel the membranous pellicle away from the pileus proper, as shown in the images below. It has black spores, but we did not obtain a print.

This mushroom is distinctive on two other counts. Firstly, like the members of the genus Chroogomphus and the other members of Gomphidius, it is a member of the order Boletales, and actually more closely related to the boletes than to other gilled mushrooms. Secondly, it is now thought that this genus is not mycorrhizal, but actually parasitic on the mycelium of members of the genus Suillus, especially S. lakei in the case of G. subroseus. We saw no Suillus close by, but certainly we were in an area where its mycelium might have been thriving just beneath our feet. These mushrooms are said to be edible but of mediocre quality.  Peel the slimy pellicle off before you try it.

One other unusual finding was a very young, fresh bracket polypore, shown above. It was all white, and I couldn’t really tell what it would develop into. However, it showed pronounced dark brown staining on the undersurface at the merest touch of my fingers, so I suspect it is an artist’s conk, Ganoderma applanatum.

Mushroom skilletDinner that night was New York steak accompanied by Sparassis radicata, Coprinus comatus, and some frozen Boletus edulis that my hosts had saved from last season.  The shaggy manes suffered by comparison to the boletes and the cauliflower mushroom, but none remained on anyone’s plate at the end of the meal. I also collected a couple of caps of Floccularia albolanaripes for an edibility test, visible at the 1:00 o’clock position near the center of our skillet, and these turned out to be significantly tastier than I had been led to believe.They were much superior to the shaggy manes, and not far behind the cauliflower and king boletes. I will continue to gather these to complete my full edibility testing, and hereafter I expect to add these distinctive yellow mushrooms to my basket whenever I run across them.

The next day I pressed onwards to the Rim Road, FR300, along the Mogollon Rim above Payson between Highways 260 and 87.  There had been a significant amount of rain in the vicinity of Forest Lakes, so that is where I started my search.  It wasn’t long before I saw some beautiful, freshly erupted fly agarics, Amanita muscaria. I always love to see these well-known archetypes of the fungal kingdom. It’s partially because of their intrinsic beauty, of course, but even more so because they are a reliable marker that conditions are finally right for the appearance of edible boletes such as B. edulis. You will sometimes find them growing side by side. Sadly, however, no boletes were found, except for yet another flyblown Suillus kaibabensis.

Some people are glad to see these beautiful mushrooms for other reasons.  There are people who use them for recreational psychoactive intoxication, although once again it is said to be the case that the subspecies as found in Western North America is devoid of hallucinogenic properties and will only make you quite sick. Other daredevils like Arora & Rubel boil the sliced mushroom to remove the intoxicating compounds before cooking and eating them, and report excellent results.  However, this is a very controversial practice, as we have reported here previously.

After my search for boletes in the area proved fruitless, I decided not to press my luck by taking fly agarics home to eat, and continued down the Rim Road.  A subsequent stop at a reliable place I have taken to calling Reishi Wonderland, in the vicinity of Bear Canyon Lake, supplied a couple of nice Ganoderma tsugae for a friend who is a strong believer in the healing power of medicinal mushrooms.

I continued on to the area near Potato Lake, where I had been given the coordinates of an old oak known to produce Hericium, but was skunked once again. But it was nice to see the lake again, which used to be part of the open range used by my great-grandfather Ross Fuller when he was running cattle out of the AJ Bar ranch at Long Valley.

I went home empty-handed that day, as I had eaten all my finds of the previous day at the evening meal. But it was clear that the ongoing monsoonal rainfall is having its desired effect.  With any luck, we should have another good August and September.

About Christopher May

Chris is a radiologist in private practice in Scottsdale. He is married to Barbara May, with two grown children, Megan and Nick.
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