Wild Mushrooms of the Okanogan

Highland Wonders

Nov 9 2021 • 46 mins

Fungi, often only recognized as slimy masters of decay, make up a whole kingdom of life on Earth. They engage in all kinds of relationships with other species, they can be the size of football fields, or too small to see without a microscope, they exist in all shapes and colors, they live underwater, in the forest and in our food. While mushrooms are only one small part of a fungi's life - the fruit that emerges when conditions are just right to reproduce - they are a great way to recognize the diversity of fungal life when you are out in nature. It's not every day that we take time to appreciate the remarkable Fungi Kingdom, what fungi do to keep our world rolling along, and how little we really know about them. In this episode, Helen Lau, botanist with the US Forest Service, will pique your interest with all kinds of fungi facts, as we kick off Season 2 of the Highland Wonders Podcast.

A Story: Anna, Nature Detective, S2:E1 Wild Mushrooms of the Okanogan

Last year, Jack the Nature Detective took us along on his adventures in the Okanogan Highlands, as he explored with his family and learned all about local wildlife, from grouse to bats to owls to bighorn sheep to common loons. This year, Jack is off to kindergarten, and in a solemn ceremony that took place at the end of August, Jack presented his cousin, Anna, with her very own Nature Detective tools and an official badge. So let’s get to know Anna!

Anna is a different kind of Nature Detective than Jack. Where Jack is cautious and careful, Anna is daring and precocious, where Jack is quiet and observant, Anna spends half her time singing and the other half chatting. Where Jack is particular about calling things by their proper name, Anna makes up her own names for her discoveries. She LOVES animals, and she is the kid who can catch the cat that no one else can. She loves exploring things close up, touching them, peering at them through her Nature Detective hand lens. Sometimes, things that can’t run away suit Anna’s detective style best, and so, this month, Anna finds herself exploring the mushroom world!

“Hey mom, what are these slimy things?” Anna hollers from the back yard.

“Oh no, not again!” her mom is remembering back to the week before when Anna brought two heaping handfuls of deer droppings into the kitchen. She runs outside to find Anna poking at a perfect circle of mushrooms growing in the backyard. “Oh, how pretty!” Anna’s mom says “I think that’s called a fairy ring.”

Anna gasps, “A fairy ring? Made by fairies? Wow!” She pulls out her hand lens and looks at the top of one mushroom. It’s smooth, brown and slippery. She looks at the stem, tan and shaggy. Then she looks at the underside of the mushroom top. “Wow! What are those stripey things?” Anna and her mom look carefully at the mushroom, and then Anna draws what she sees in her notebook. Later on, they look in a book and find that the top of the mushroom is called the cap, the stem is called the stem, and the stripes underneath the cap are called gills.

“So...mushrooms have gills... like fish. And a cap, like an umbrella. And I don’t know why, but they grow in a circle like a fairy would make. I’ll this a Fairy Gillyhat!” Anna says. Anna and her mom go and wash their hands, because, as their book told them, some mushrooms can be poisonous. From that day on, Anna finds mushrooms all over the place - growing on tree trunks, in the grass, on logs in the forest, everywhere! But why are they everywhere? And why are some poisonous, but some you can eat? Anna has lots of questions, and luckily for her, Helen Lau, of the US Forest Service has lots of answers in the latest episode of the Highland Wonders Podcast!

Season 2 of the Highland Wonders Podcast is supported by Humanities Washington and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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