Ridealong: An RVA Mushroom Hunt

September 7, 2021 · 2 minute read
Ridealong: An RVA Mushroom Hunt

Have you ever wondered how it’s all connected? I wonder all the time! The reason I focus on mushrooms is that I’ve found mushrooms to be integral to the health of trees and soils. I’ve also discovered a beneficial purpose for some of the mushrooms that are supposedly harmful to trees. I see these “harmful” mushrooms everywhere, and yet they appear to live harmoniously with the trees instead of killing or damaging them.

Two weeks ago while riding my bike around Richmond, I noticed ringless honey mushroom, Armillaria tabescens, all over the woods. I guess technically I didn’t slow down enough to properly identify the mushroom, but this is what I believe I was seeing. If you research Armillaria you’ll find it’s a wood-rotting fungus that kills trees. I think Armillaria is everywhere in our woods and soil and only takes over stressed or dead trees, just like other diseases and insects.

Interesting Fact: An Armillaria species was measured in 1998 and determined to be the largest living organism in the world. Researchers measured the mycelium of the mushroom underground and, it was said to encompass 1,665 football fields. I am not going to discuss how they measured it so you will have to look that up if you are interested.  But if you didn’t know already, there is a network of mycelium under our feet in soil, in our yard, and in the woods.

Mycelium is basically the vegetative body of a mushroom that you rarely see and is below the ground. The small fruit body part we see above the ground (the mushroom) is the sexual reproduction part of a mushroom. The mushroom releases spores. These spores are single cells and they float around in the air and lay around on the ground, or other substrate, to reproduce and produce hyphae. When two compatible hyphae meet, they create mycelium. Mycelium spreads throughout the soil and creates symbiotic relationships with the roots of many trees and plants.  

When was the last time you went for a walk or bike ride intent on discovering mushrooms? Did you take any pictures and leave the mushroom “as is” for the next walker or biker? How about walking around your yard to see how many you can find or look for the smallest mushrooms? I personally have my radar on for mushrooms when I drive, walk, run and ride… but most of the time I seem to be too busy to slow down or stop to have a closer look.

This weekend I went out for a few long rides around Henrico, Hanover, and the City of Richmond to find Honey Mushrooms, but they were gone. I couldn’t find any to identify. I know their network of mycelium was still there but the fruiting bodies were absent. I’m sure there are some out there still, but they were not on my bike path.

While hunting for mushrooms, it’s easy to get sidetracked by all types of living organisms. The interconnectedness amongst plants, birds and insects become increasingly apparent and often times mesmerizing.

Throughout this article are pictures of mushrooms that were recently found, photographed and left for the next person or animal to enjoy.