Foraging for Mushrooms

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Charlotte Caplan identifies the mushroom as participants listen.

It was the perfect storm for finding mushrooms last weekend in gorgeous Yancey County. In recent days, thunderstorms had soaked the ground, paving the way for an explosion of boletes, chanterelles, little brown mushrooms, and many others.

On July 22nd, SAHC & guests were led on an intriguing excursion by Asheville myco-hunter and expert, Charlotte Caplan. Everyone learned some tricks of the trade when identifying these mysterious fungi. The common question was, “How do you know if a mushroom is edible or not?”

“There is only one way to know if its edible or not – and that is to eat it,” joked Caplan. We all leaned in closer to hear more. From her basket, Charlotte pulled out a small white and harmless-looking mushroom with gills — A destroying angel. The name says it all; just one small bite is deadly enough to shut down a person’s liver and kidneys. What a comforting lesson to start the hike!

We dispersed along the edge of the forest to forage for some ‘shrooms, and within minutes everyone was filling baskets with russulas, boletes, puffballs, and morels galore. Caplan explained that identifying mushrooms is a challenging task, and even the most experienced mycologist cannot identify every mushroom.

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Caplan holds a Jack O’Lantern Mushroom, which glows faintly in the dark

Smell is one of the primary methods in the identification process for some mushrooms. Many have a signature fragrance. Some smell sweet when they are young, and as they mature the odor becomes fishy. Others have that fresh, dirt-like smell.

Our adventurous scavengers found the bioluminescant Jack o’lantern mushroom, chanterelles, umbrella mushrooms, and many more. For lunch, everyone took their spoils to the top of the property and enjoyed beautiful views of Mt. Mitchell, Cattail Peak, Winter Star, and Celo Knob. Storms looked eminent in the distance, juxtaposed beautifully next to the sunlit mountains to the west of the property. Caplan searched each basket to ensure that there were not any deadly mushrooms, and then folks hopped into cars to escape in the incoming storms.

The mushroom hike was such a fruitful experience that Caplan offered to lead another expedition sometime in the near future. If you missed this hike, please check out to find other SAHC hikes and events, and we’ll see you next time!

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