My name is Gena Wood. I work as a naturalist and historic guide for Delaware North at Yosemite. Part of my job is helping people understand the natural world (and hopefully fall more in love with it). In my short time on this planet I’ve realized one of the most misunderstood (and feared) life forms is fungus. I’ve also realized one of the most of important and exciting life forms also happens to be fungus!
Now that rain (and snow!!) has started falling in Yosemite National Park we are not only seeing Yosemite Falls flowing again, we are seeing the fungus among us: mushrooms!
What are mushrooms? Mushrooms are the fruiting body of mycelium, found underground. Imagine mycelium being the tree and the mushroom as the fruit growing on this tree. But don’t be fooled; mushrooms are not plants.
Similarly to humans, mushrooms cannot make food from the sun. Mushrooms are often parasitic, breaking down plant material, like rotting wood. Mushrooms play a very important role ecologically as our decomposers, keeping our forests healthy. But that is not all! Most plants actually depend on that underground mycelium to help their roots get water and nutrients.
Mushrooms wait until the right conditions to show their fruit, those conditions are usually from rain. The rain can be a promising sign for mushroom activity. Rain also helps mushrooms spread their spores. Spores are similar to seeds, helping the mushrooms disperse. Each species of mushroom has a different time of year you can find them, which makes mushroom hunting a year-round activity!
Most mushrooms grow on rotting wood or in the soil. What they grow on is helpful for learning how to identify mushrooms. Identifying mushrooms can be a challenging, yet rewarding experience. Many mushrooms are not edible, most of them won’t kill you either. If you aren’t 100% positive, then don’t eat them. Learning what mushrooms you can and cannot eat takes time and experience.
Walking around the woods to find mushrooms isn’t just for those who eat mushrooms, but also for those that appreciate their beauty. Many times I walk away empty handed after a mushroom hunt. I never walk away disappointed though. Some of the most beautiful mushrooms are just for looks. I am always amazed at the variety of colors, shapes, smells, and sizes.
Yosemite Valley is full big things to look up at, sometimes you need a reminder to slow down and notice the small things. Have you noticed mushrooms growing in Yosemite?
All photos were taken in Yosemite Valley on December 9th and 10th by Gena Wood.
Though visitors are not allowed to take anything from Yosemite National Park, they are welcome to forage for mushrooms strictly for personal consumption – similar to fishing. However, we discourage any but the most knowledgeable from eating mushrooms foraged in the park.