Flora Fact: The Making of a Mushroom
Apricot-scented ‘golden chanterelle’ and a new cousin sprout in East Texas.
By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers
Maybe you cuss mushrooms in your yard. Not David Lewis. He gets down on his knees and examines them. Very carefully! In fact, last year the East Texas mycologist (a scientist who studies fungi) helped in describing a new mushroom species for the state.
On a farm near Caldwell, Lewis and his colleagues found Cantharellus quercophilus growing from sandy soil in a post oak savannah.
“Members of this genus of mushrooms are hard to tell apart,” Lewis says. “In our state, we have from 10 to 15 species of Cantharellus, all in eastern Texas.”
Two common species are Cantharellus cibarius and Cantharellus lateritius, which bear golden-yellow fruit in June and July across floors of mixed pine/hardwood forests. Fruit, you say?
“Yes, mushrooms are actually the fruiting bodies of certain fungi,” Lewis explains. “Fungi — classified in their own kingdom — are more like animals than plants, which have vascular systems. Not fungi. Instead, they have thread-like structures called mycelium that secrete enzymes and dissolve organic matter, which they ingest.”
Some fungi feed off dead vegetation, while others attack living plants. Mycorrhizal fungi, such as Cantharellus species, give and take with tree roots. While the fungus saps sugar from the roots, it also produces beneficial phosphorous and nitrogen.
“That’s why Cantharellus species can’t be cultivated, like button mushrooms available in grocery stores,” Lewis explains. “They’ve got to have trees nearby in order to fruit and produce spores.”
Sometimes called the “golden chanterelle,” Cantharellus cibarius mushrooms unfurl upward as they enlarge. The fruit — which smell sweet like apricots — are edible. But never gather mushrooms unless you’re with a mushroom expert, Lewis warns.