BY: MARJORIE PITTS
PHOTOGRAPHY BY: SUZ KARCHMER
Grab a basket, bring a sense of adventure and set off onto wooded paths to explore the oft-overlooked world of mushrooms.
Panellus stipticus mushrooms can be found growing on logs, stumps and tree trunks along Chatham’s conservation trails.
Images of the sea and marine life often come to mind when considering Chatham’s natural bounty, but with its over 800 acres of land and upwards of five miles of trails, the Chatham Conservation Foundation invites a closer look at the area’s equally rich terrestrial biodiversity found just off the beaten path. While the CCF offers a wide range of programming for the community, their guided themed walks have been especially popular.
Last November, the CCF piloted a Mushroom Identification Walk, which was so well-received, a second date was added. “We have had all kinds of educational walks and talks,” says Dorothy Bassett, executive director of CCF. “Our mycology walk is kind of our grand hurrah of the season.”
The walk was led by Cape native Wesley Price, founder of the Cape Cod Mycological Society. “The Chatham Conservation Foundation is one of the newest sponsors of the club,” says Price, “and we’re happy to be here with the group to learn a little bit about local fungi.” His breath visible in the crisp November morning air, Price explains, “Fungi are everywhere, basically in everything: inside of us, outside of us, underground, above ground—even in the air.”
After taking in Price’s brief introduction about the fascinating and oft-overlooked world of mushrooms, we split into two groups and set off into the chilly woods. The first group, led by Price, set out to search the .75-mile Training Field Triangle trail loop, while the other, led by Bassett, foraged along the 1.25-mile Barclays Pond trail. The mission? Load up our baskets with all manner of fungi, and then bring them back to a central meeting point to be examined, identified and displayed for all. (Important side note: Most of the mushrooms are not edible.)
A group of mycology enthusiasts participate in a Mushroom Identification Walk in the fall of 2019. Dorothy Bassett, executive director of The Chatham Conservation Foundation (in purple jacket, center) and Wesley Price (in red jacket), founder of the Cape Cod Mycological Society, teamed up for the organized walks. Price is pictured with his daughter, Lucy.
Brick Top Mushroom (edible with poisonous lookalikes)
My group headed onto the Training Field Triangle trail, where Price and his young daughter, Lucy—a budding mycologist in her own right—wasted no time finding our group’s first specimen: lichen, attached to the bark of a rotting oak tree. With the “Ah!” of recognition, Price explains that lichen, so ubiquitous and familiar here on Cape Cod—growing on trees, walkway pavers or even on gravestones—is indeed fungi. After we basketed samples of lichen with a newfound appreciation for its many variations and intricate patterns, we proceeded down the trail, eyes scanning the forest floor in anticipation of yet more discoveries. “It’s super camouflaged right now because of the frost, but we’re looking for wood-degrading fungi on logs, on leaves, on branches of the detritus on the ground,” says Price. “We can even find them on a surface as small as a single pine needle.”
A short time and many fungi discoveries later, both groups of participants came back together, emptied our baskets and placed our finds onto a sheet spread out on the ground to facilitate easy viewing. Among the specimens found that day, the crowd favorite was the tiny, red-capped “British Soldier”—named for their vibrant “red coats.” Another variety that attracted attention was the Hypholoma Sublateritium, commonly known as “Brick Top” mushroom, which Price identified as edible, but quickly cautioned that it has a look-alike version that is poisonous.
“I’m amazed that we were able to find so many varieties of mushrooms this late in the year, even after the frost,” says Chatham native Terry Bassett, who participated in the walk. Alongside the various fungi, Price also displayed wool yarn that he had dyed to an earthy red hue using the mushroom Cortinarius Semisanguineus, illustrating yet another way our local fungi can enrich our senses.
The Chatham Conservation Foundation walks and events are listed on their website, chathamconservationfoundation.org/. CCT also welcomes mushroom enthusiasts or the fungi-curious to explore the trails on their own. Recommended reference books to take along for self-guided discoveries include “Mushrooms of Cape Cod and the National Seashore” and “Mushrooms of the Northeast.” Of course, one need not be an aspiring mycologist to venture out on the trails, as they are open for all to enjoy thanks to the generosity of CCF donors and members. Trail maps can be accessed through the CCF website. Happy—and healthy—trails to you, Chatham!
Chatham Conservation Foundation, Inc.,
540 Main St.,
Panellus stipticus mushrooms
Lucy Price and Sky explore the trails of Training Field Triangle during a guided mushroom walk by the Chatham Conservation Foundation.