Southeast Alaska edible fungi—A top 5 for the new mycophile
By David Gregovich
You are looking to put some wild Southeast Alaska mushrooms in the frying pan. But you don’t know where to start. Here’s a top 5 list of mushrooms that are relatively easy to identify for someone new to the Southeast Alaska fungal arena:
- Winter chanterelle (Craterellus tubaeformis)—Funnel chanterelles are good eating. You need to have a little patience though, as they are small, and it takes a number to make a meal. But the beauty is that they are ubiquitous in old-growth coniferous forests of Southeast Alaska, and can be found August-October (much later if the winter is mild). Funnel chanterelles can be differentiated from other mushrooms by their fold-like ridges (as opposed to sharp gills as is common) on the underside of the cap.
2. Shaggy mane (Coprinus comatus)—Shaggy manes grow largely in urban and suburban areas growing out of roadsides and lawns. They even sometimes sprout out of cracks in concrete. Their name comes from the shaggy appearance of the cap. Shaggy manes and related mushrooms are unique in their method of spore dispersal—the gills under the cap ‘deliquesce’ (turn to liquid) in older age—it is more appealing to harvest them before this process proceeds to far! Generally found late July-September.
3. King bolete (Boletus edulis)—King boletes are an esteemed culinary item across many regions and peoples ‘Boletes’ are mushrooms with small pores on the underside of the cap rather than blade-like ‘gills’. Their bun-like appearance, large size, and pleasant taste give them iconic mycological status. And in Southeast Alaska, they are fairly common, though restricted to patches in well-drained Sitka spruce forests. Race to get them before squirrels, mice, bugs, and slugs beat you there.
4. Chicken-of-the-woods (Laetiporus confiericola)—Chickens are nearly impossible to misidentify, their bright orange top and yellow bottom surfaces are extraordinary. They grow like neon platters out of the side of dead conifers, though at times at a height inaccessible to your average human. A common theme in mushroom hunting is ‘timing is everything’; chickens are awesome when young, but soon become tougher and a touch bitter.
5. Puffballs (Lycoperdon perlatum and related species)—Puffballs are common in drier soils that have sometimes been disturbed by human activity. They are pretty easy to tell by their shape, which looks like a little upside-down pear. They don’t have a cap or gills like many other fungi do. If you slice a young puffball open, the tissue inside is homogenously white in color. Puffballs are a nice addition to a stir-fry, sauce, or soup!