The Mushrooms of Miami County
Story & Photos by Matt Bayman
Once you become interested in mushroom hunting and mushroom photography, hiking becomes a different experience. No longer are your eyes focused on the trail ahead or the animals and birds in the forest. Instead, they’re peeled to the ground—looking at the bases of trees, the crevices of fallen logs and limbs, and under small piles of leaves and grasses—waiting for a colorful mushroom to catch your eye. It can become dizzying at times, and you have to tell yourself to just walk for a while, to look forward and to forget about these interesting creatures that, to be honest, we really don’t know much about, but that surround us.
According to the National Library of Medicine, there are an estimated 5.1 million species of fungi on Earth and they may outnumber plants 6 to 1. Yet, only a fraction of this number has been identified, including in Ohio. This makes hunting them even more interesting. There really is a chance that you could find a new species! It’s kind of like an adult version of Easter egg hunting, which, as the story goes, may have actually originated from the tradition of children being sent out to collect colorful spring mushrooms for food and eventually turned into the tradition of coloring eggs that look like mushrooms and hiding them for fun.
It is estimated that around 2,000 species of mushrooms grow in Ohio, but it could be much higher. Common species include chanterelles, giant puffballs, morels, shaggy manes, oysters (including a version that glows), and many others.
According to the Ohio State University Extension, mushrooms in Ohio grow in a wide variety of habitats, but are especially fond of wooded and wet areas. It is in these places that the mushrooms develop a symbiotic relationship with the trees, shrubs and plants growing around them, which is mutually beneficial to all involved. They play a key role in the recycling of organic matter in the environment, which is essential to life on Earth.
“Most of the mushrooms seen on a walk through the woods are beneficial to the environment,” the Extension’s online guide to wild mushrooms states.
I personally know very little about mushroom identification, but I do enjoy hunting them and photographing them. Their bright colors and interesting patterns and shapes are often alien and in sharp contrast to anything else in the woods. The bright orange, red and yellow caps of many species in Ohio are colors that are not seen anywhere else in nature, or very little of anyway. Tall shaggy manes can grow knee-high, often towering above the plant life and vegetation that surround it. All of these special ways in which mushrooms stand out in the environment make them fun to look for and photograph.
Over many years, I found that there are three places that consistently have an abundance of wild mushrooms, year in and year out. The first is Brukner Nature Center in Troy. The trails at this diverse park contain dozens of mushroom species that make appearances at different times throughout the year, but are most prevalent in August through October. Close behind Brukner is Maple Ridge Reserve in Covington. This diverse landscape has an entirely different group of mushrooms than at Brukner. This includes a healthy populations of shaggy manes and chicken of the woods.
Last, but certainly not least, is Garbry Big Woods Sanctuary in Piqua. The boardwalk trail here comes to life with mushrooms and wildflowers in the spring, including scarlet buttercups, and continues to host a variety of other species into the fall and winter.
All of the photographs seen here were taken at these three locations over the past six or seven years. While I am aware of the names of some of these mushroom species, I have not tried to identify them. In fact, there are probably several pictures of the same mushroom species during different phases of its reproductive cycle. As a whole, these images represent just a small slice of the mushrooms and fungi that can be found and admired while hiking at three of Miami County’s most beautiful parks, and many other places in Ohio.
SEE BELOW PICTURES FOR FUN FACTS ABOUT MUSHROOMS...
Facts About Mushrooms
The DNA of mushrooms is more closely related to humans than it is to plants. They breathe oxygen and exhale CO2.
The fruiting body (the cap and stem) makes up less than five percent of the actual organism.
It is believed that about 420 million years ago, before trees and plants overtook the land, the Earth was covered with giant mushrooms that grew as tall as trees. According to the Smithsonian Institute’s website, some of these mushrooms boasted trunks up to 24-feet-high and were as wide as three feet.
According to a study published in 2017, glow-in-the-dark mushrooms in Brazil and Russia somehow “gathered the compounds that emit light from other living things that glow” and turned them into light for themselves in order to draw insects closer. When those bugs inspect the light, they then carry off spores from the mushroom and help spread it around the forest and beyond.
A colony of Armillaria solidipe mushrooms that grows in the Blue Mountains of Oregon is believed to be the largest organism in the world. It covers 2,200 acres and is believed to be 2,400 years old.
It appears that lightning makes mushrooms more plentiful. No one knows why.
After washing off your morels in water, toss the water in your yard. Chances are, dozens of the mushrooms will
pop up in that exact same spot the next year.
Puffball mushrooms can grow up to two-feet-wide and can be cooked and used just like eggplant.
The Amanita phalloides, or Death Cap, is one of the most deadly organisms on Earth. If you eat it, there’s no hope for your survival. Worryingly, it looks a lot like common, edible mushrooms.
Mushrooms do not require sunlight to make energy. They consume food for it, like we do.
A single Portabella mushroom has more potassium than a banana.
Mushroom spores are made of the hardest natural material on Earth, sporopollenin, and can survive in the vacuum and radiation of space. Some scientists wonder if mushrooms somehow floated to Earth from a distant planet. To further back this, the outer layer of sporopollenin is a metallic purple hue that naturally allows the spores to deflect ultraviolet light, which is very helpful for space travel.
In 1997, an astronaut on the Russian space station Mir found “beach-ball sized” globs of fungi growing behind a service panel. This apparently happened multiple times before it was brought under control. This demonstrates that at least some types of fungi have no problem with space travel.
Much of the dirt beneath our feet is made from the remains of mushrooms and fungus.
Some people say that the Chicken of the Woods mushroom, common in Ohio, tastes like fried chicken. Others disagree.
Research into Psilocybin mushrooms as medicine is showing promising results in treating depression, anxiety, PTSD and many other psychological problems, often with only a single dose.
One of the most exciting new mushrooms in the medical world is the Chaga mushroom, which contains a high amount of Betulinic Acid, which is an anti-tumor compound that has also been shown to strengthen bone marrow and is good for the skin. It may also re-grow neurons in the brain!
If you lightly touch a scarlet buttercup mushroom, and many other species of mushroom, you will often see it eject millions or billions of spores into the environment, hoping that some of them land on you and you then take them to a new and far away place.
A single basidiomycete mushroom is capable of releasing over 1 billion spores per day.
One of the main reasons to consume mushrooms is because they contain copper, which the human body needs but can not produce on its own. They are also high in vitamin D and antioxidants.
Mushrooms are being studied for their natural pesticide abilities. Some mushroom spores repel more than 200,000 species of insect, without ever using chemicals and, in turn, are beneficial for the environment.
Hieroglyphics from Ancient Egypt that are more than 4,500 years old, call mushrooms “the plant of immortality.” They were so important for the diet of the ruling elites that commoners were forbidden from picking and eating them.
You might be familiar with the four tastes—salty, sweet, bitter and sour, but did you know there’s a fifth taste that’s only associated with mushrooms? It’s called umami and it registers as a meat-like taste to humans. This is why vegetarians often use mushrooms as meat substitutes.
In terms of consuming wild mushrooms, 50% are inedible but harmless, 25% are edible, but don’t taste very good, 20% will make you ill, 4% are popular for consuming, and 1% will kill you.
A bitter oyster (pictured below using a slowed down lens from Wikipedia), which has been photographed in Ohio, glows in the dark.