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If you happened to be driving by the Pine Street entrance to 128 this past Sunday morning, you may have seen a gathering of about 35 people dressed for the elements and happily chatting away about their wonderful discoveries in the woods—namely mushrooms!

Guided by mycology (the study of fungi) expert Gary Gilbert and fellow mycologist Chris Neefus of UNH, a group of cheerful foragers took to the Dug Hill Trail in the Manchester-Essex woods on a gorgeous autumn day to learn more about the fabulous fungi living there.  With eyes on the ground, the group found all manner of wondrous mushrooms.  Gathering around, Gary would identify the mushroom, often taking out his knife to slice a bit off the cap to see how the mushroom responded, and talk about its role in the forest, possible culinary uses, or not, and any other interesting details (of which there are so many!).  Diagnostic features included, but were certainly not limited to, size, color and shape of the cap, a peek at the underside for pores, gills or teeth, the presence or absence of a veil, the color of its spores and, of course, where it was found.  And this is just the beginning.  Mushroom identification is not to be taken lightly.  Amongst the day’s finds were:  Small Chanterelles (Craterellus species), some Honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea & ostoye), Lion's Mane (Hericium americanum) on Beech trees, Black Trumpets (Craterellus fallax), Coltricia's a small stalked Polypore with a pretty cap, many big robust but too bitter to eat Tricholoma species, many Milky Caps (Lactarius species) too small and inconsequential to consider eating, and a few Suillus species, a yellow form from the Porcini family (Suillus acidus and punctipes).

Big, small, purple, yellow, edible, poisonous, and so much more, these marvelous forest dwellers can be breathtakingly beautiful and wildly delicious.  Though the time spent learning them can seem daunting, the group of forest foragers were inspiring in their enthusiasm and curiosity.  For many, this was not their first walk with Gary. It was also quite possibly the best way to spend a few hours on a Sunday morning.  Gary Gilbert has kindly been sharing his twice monthly column “Mushroom of the Week” with Cricket readers.  If you are interested in learning more about mushrooms or attending future mushroom walks, you can reach him at: g2bythesea@gmail.com.

Kris McGinn writes features and columns on local life around Cape Ann. In 2020 she won two national writing awards from the National Newspaper Association. She can be reached at kris@thecricket.com.