Late July 2014 Update: Choice edibles on Mt. Lemmon

Between work and tramping around in the mountains, I have been remiss in getting early-season updates on the page.  Time for a little show-and-tell! This will be the first in a series of articles to bring readers up to date on what’s been happening in Arizona the last week in July and first week of August. Saturday and Sunday the 25th/26th of July, I went up Mt. Lemmon with my daughter Megan. This “Sky Island” rising abruptly from the desert just north of Tucson is over 9000 feet high, and home to the southernmost ski area in the United States. We had good success on oyster mushrooms, velvet foot mushrooms (Flammulina populicola), and a very nice cauliflower mushroom, Sparassis crispa/radicata, which was quickly gobbled up once we got home. Other conspicuous species of lesser gourmet appeal included dog-vomit slime mold (Fuligo septica), red-belted polypore (Fomitopsis pinicola), and witches’ butter (Tremella or Dacromyces sp.)

The aspen-loving Flammulina populicola, like its more widespread cousin the enokitake (F. velutipes), is a delicious, common edible with a long growing season. Lots of people collect it and eat it safely, but it is possible to confuse it with other “Little Brown Mushrooms.” If you mistakenly do this with Galerina marginata, you (or your survivors) will regret it bitterly. Here are some distinguishing features of Flammulina to help you collect it safely, adapted from Eric Nelson’s excellent Arizona Mushrooms Primer:

  • Occurs in clusters at the base of dead or dying aspen, with stem bases not connected to wood at a point above ground level. 
  • Cap center is tan, with lighter-colored yellowish outer edge, and slimy when wet.
  • Gills are cream colored.
  • Sometimes the cap and gills appear “pinched” at one end. 
  • Stem is tan near the cap, then darkens and becomes velvety further down. No ring or veil is present.
  • White spore print. Tom Volk recommends spore-printing every Flammulina you collect. As most people eat only the caps and discard the stems, this should be straightforward.
A number of other good edibles have been found up on Mt. Lemmon in prior years, including such treasures as Boletus barrowsii.  There are several square miles of good forested mushroom habitat lying at 7000-9000 feet elevation between the ski area and the Mt. Lemmon summit to the west, and Bear Wallow and Mt. Bigelow to the east, although the slopes are steep and you will do some work to fill your basket. Some habitat was lost in the Aspen Fire of 2003, but much of the good mushrooming terrain is still intact. Folks in Tucson should definitely give it a try when the monsoon rains have been cooperative!

Note that there is a recreational fee charged for use of some areas on the mountain.

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.
Tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Late July 2014 Update: Choice edibles on Mt. Lemmon

  1. phhannan says:

    Nice to the Catalinas get some attention. Had not seen Flammulina up there. One to keep an eye out for.

Leave a Reply