Wilderness Wanderings: Mushrooms cap a fabulous year in local forests
- Recent showers have perked up our late summer wildflowers, including purple fireweed and asters, red paintbrush, white bistort and blue gentian. Orange sneezeweed is waning.
- We’re beginning to see hunters in the forests but most are scouting their permit areas. Even though rifle season does not begin until October, it is wise to begin wearing an orange vest in the coming weeks during the archery and muzzle-loading hunting periods.
- For the latest trail conditions, call the Steamboat office of the U.S. Forest Service, 970-870-2299.
This has been an especially bountiful year for wild mushrooms in our nearby Routt National Forest. Among the most fickle of nature’s many rewards, mushrooms vary greatly in abundance from year to year, depending on moisture and other factors.
But, it’s important to note that a free-use permit is required to harvest mushrooms for personal use from National Forest lands. In addition, it is illegal to harvest mushrooms in wilderness areas, such as Mount Zirkel, Sarvis Creek and the Flat Tops.
Rabbit Ears Pass is not only close to Steamboat and away from wilderness areas, but it offers prime conditions for mushroom growth.
Another critical reminder is the fact that some types of mushrooms are toxic and even deadly. Therefore, it is wise to learn the edible species from an expert. Yampatika’s naturalists will sometimes point out mushroom species on guided wildflower, geology and other hikes.
Chanterelles are perhaps the most prized of our local mushrooms, smelling faintly of apricot. The large, tan-to-brownish cap becomes funnel-shaped after a time.
Similar looking or closely related mushrooms such as funnel and jack o’lantern chanterelles, are not recommended for consumption, and false chanterelles are poisonous.
Other highly tasty mushrooms found locally are the king and two-colored boletes, which prefer to grow under mature aspen and pine trees. The former, commonly called porcini, has a date-brown cap with a greasy surface, whereas the latter has a rose-colored, rounded cap that flattens as it ages on the stalk. Some of the other boletes are quite toxic, therefore it’s wise to learn the differences from someone who knows.
The blusher, a member of the amanita family, is another of our flavorful wild mushrooms. It has a red-brown cap covered with small, pinkish patches. However, it must be cooked, as it is indigestible when eaten raw. Other amanita, such as the bright-red muscaria, are deadly poisonous.
Confused? So am I! That’s why it’s best to be leery when harvesting mushrooms, and gather them in the wild only with an expert.
Bob Korch is president and trail crew leader with Friends of Wilderness, which assists the U.S. Forest Service in maintaining trails and educating the public in the Mount Zirkel, Sarvis Creek and Flat Tops Wilderness areas. For more information, visit friendsofwilderness.com.
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