The Piney Woods ecoregion of East Texas (in which The Woodlands sits) is home to towering pines, delicate dogwoods, the red-cockaded woodpecker, and miles of tea-colored, sandy creeks. Its lush flora and fauna are supported by the area’s heavy rainfall, and this also makes way for more elusive natural treasures—mushrooms.
One day there’s no trace, and then the next—there they are. Wild mushrooms may be harder to spot, but they are plentiful especially after a good rain. And fall is a great time to find them along The Woodlands’ hike and bike paths.
What is a mushroom?
A mushroom is comparable to the flower or fruit of a plant—but without much going on above ground. Most of the fungal organism lives within the soil or wood as thread-like strands known as mycelium. Below ground, a fungus can be downright humongous—like the documented Armillaria in eastern Oregon.
Scientists call the fungus in eastern Oregon the largest single living organism in the world, and it’s somewhere between 2,000 to 8,000 years old.
Some fungi are mycorrhizae that grow in association with the roots of a plant, supplying it with nutrients. These fungi play an especially important role in soil biology.
When fungi bloom, they send their tiny forest sculptures above ground and we find mushrooms. They are most often found on dead or decaying organic matter—making fall a great time to find them as they decompose the season’s fallen leaves.
A favorite of artists and photographers alike is Amanita muscaria, one of the most recognizable and common mushrooms. It may be a looker, but don’t be tempted to do more with it. It’s toxic. Find it among pines and other conifers.
Look for this graceful, long-stemmed mushroom, Oudemansiella radicata, often found near hardwoods. It’s one of the hardest working decomposers out there, quickly breaking down dead materials into the soil and releasing nutrients that trees can absorb.
Another interesting find is the Ganoderma species. Though it’s not an edible mushroom, they are highly prized in some cultures for medicinal properties. Specimens are dried, ground, and steeped as a tea thought to treat anything from stomach pain to some cancers. It’s another great decomposer.
Finally, when you see this messy mushroom that almost looks like broken eggs on the ground, you have found one of the Scleroderma species. It’s highly toxic if consumed, but like the other mushrooms, helps move nutrients around in mixed pine and hardwood forests.
Take a walk and see what you find. And keep in mind: many mushrooms are toxic, so take pictures rather than pick them. To learn more about mushrooms and get help identifying the hundreds of species that grow in the area, grab a field guide.
Suggested Field Guides
Texas Mushrooms: A Field Guide, Susan and Van Metzler, University of Texas Press
Mushrooms Demystified, David Arora, Ten Speed Press