Saturday, 26 October 2013

Mushrooms!

It's fall in full bloom and mushrooms are fruiting in abundance this year. One of the most coveted grass land species is the small but powerful Psilocybe semilanceata aka 'Liberty Cap'. Now despite what the law says, we know that people are going to be looking for these little guys and picking them. Here are some tips and identifying features of this mushroom that will help anyone looking for them I.D. them correctly. We want everyone to be safe and use responsibly. Oppressive governments thrive on ignorance.

First off, location is everything. Liberty caps grow in old cow pastures, or grassy fields rich with moisture and fertilizer. They rarely grow in lawns, but can sometimes be found around golf courses where they receive ample moisture and nitrogen. The typically start fruiting in September when the temperature drops and the autumn rain starts falling. They will fruit until the ground begins to freeze.
Liberty caps are small gilled mushrooms with long brittle stems and a cap circumference usually smaller than a dime. It usually has a nipple-like point on top of it but not always. The cap color can range dramatically from white-buff, golden yellow, deep 'trout' green, to blue. This can make it hard to identify some specimens. Fortunately there is one feature that all liberty caps will have in common; they have a sticky layer of skin (pellicle) that covers the cap and keeps it contained. By carefully pulling apart the cap you should be able to see the sticky skin stretch like clear rubber. This feature is KEY to identifying. A mushroom could look identical but without that sticky, stretchy skin, it is not the right species.
When hunting for these mushrooms, typically you graze over the grass slowly keeping your eye sharp to anything resembling a mushroom. When you spot one stop where you are and look carefully through the grass surrounding you. Where there is one you can see there are typically many others hiding which you can not see. Search the area thoroughly, it will be worth your while!
Another key feature that will separate this species from any look-alike's is it's dark purple spores. If the spores are black, brown, rust, white, or any color other than a dark purple it is an indicator that you have the wrong species. To make a spore print simply cut the cap off of the mushroom and place it on a piece of paper gills down. Cover the cap with a bowl or container and let it sit for anywhere from a few hours to over night. The spores will drop and you should be able to see the color quite easily.
More often than not you will find yourself picking these mushrooms on private land, so remember to be respectful. Avoid trespassing and never EVER litter. It is a good idea to bring a bag for collecting litter. That way if you are questioned about your intentions you can be honest, "I'm picking mushrooms and picking up trash". Rarely will someone be upset to hear that you are picking up garbage.

So remember, be safe! Don't eat a mushroom unless you are 100% sure of it's identity. When in doubt, throw it out. It can be exciting when you think you have found a huge patch of magical mushrooms like these, but keep the excitement at bay until you know for sure. Also, when it comes time to sample the fruit of your labor remember that these little guys are about double the strength of the typical 'Magic' mushrooms you might find at a college party. 1-2grams dry weight is plenty enough to have a safe and pleasant experience.

Happy picking!

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