Mushrooms are fun, but be careful
Beloved of fairies and hob goblins, delicious in stews and salads and stigmatised as poisonous; mushrooms are the real fun guys of the plant world.
Puns aside, you may have noticed more fungus and red-capped mushies popping under trees on roadside verges or at the bottom of your garden lately.
That is because it is mushroom season and our damp summer – and even damper start to autumn – created the perfect growing conditions for the more than 3000 varieties of mushrooms and fungi that thrive in the region.
The national poisons centre annual report says unidentified mushrooms were the most common plant inquiry they received from the public in 2010.
However, Mushrooms and Other Fungi of New Zealand author Geoff Ridley says fruit of fungi – what we call mushrooms – are nothing to worry about as long as you don’t eat them.
‘‘There’s a lot of little brown [type] mushrooms out there . . . a lot of them will be hallucinogenic, some will be poisonous and some will be nothing,’’ he says.
‘‘The best thing to do is teach kids not to put things in their mouths.’’
With many of the varieties there is no way to tell which is which without look- ing at the spores – the ‘‘seeds’’ they release from under the caps – under a microscope. ‘‘Just steer clear of the little brown ones.’’
Dr Ridley says he has never heard of dogs or children being poisoned by wild mushrooms though, because they naturally avoid them.
‘‘You get a few poisonings each year but it tends to be adults who want to experiment with what they eat . . .
‘‘ We have an innate fear of mushrooms. We don’t want to eat them. We’ll buy them from the supermarket, but we don’t want to eat [wild fungi].’’
They can be alluring though. Dr Ridley recently led a central Wellington fungal foray in the Wilton bush to look for the natives like the bright blue Entolma which he calls the ‘‘holy grail’’ for fungi spotters. ‘‘They all want to see that one.’’ However, he says his favourites are the classic red capped mushroom, Fly Agaric.
‘‘You know it’s fungus season when you see them start to pop up.’’
For more information on which mushrooms to avoid see poisons.co.nz.
For information about the kinds of mushrooms you may see in the wild, see A Photographic Guide to Mushrooms and Other Fungi of New Zealand by Dr Geoff Ridley, from New Holland books.
In season: Mushrooms are popping up all over the region thanks to a climate perfect for growing fungi. However, those partial to roadside foraging need to know which mushrooms they can eat and which they should leave.