It's been raining here. A lot.
Elder offspring: Remember that huge mushroom we saw on the field after soccer practice?
Dr. Free-Ride: With all the rain we've been getting, we've been seeing a lot more mushrooms this spring.
Elder offspring: Rainbows, too.
Dr. Free-Ride: We should call Uncle Fishy and see if he's interested in going "bird watching" with us this weekend.
Elder offspring: Or mushroom hunting.
Younger offspring: At school, after rainy days, we have to scrape the mushrooms off of the stumps we sit on in the sandbox.
Elder offspring: Mushrooms like rain.
Dr. Free-Ride: OK, so you know what mushrooms like to drink. What else do you know about how they grow?
Elder offspring: They like loose soil.
Dr. Free-Ride: Do you know what kind of living thing a mushroom is?
Younger offspring: It's not an animal or a plant.
Elder offspring: Yeah, it's a fungus.
Dr. Free-Ride's better half: That's right. "Fungi" is one of the five kingdoms of living things.
Dr. Free-Ride: So what do they eat? You know that green plants use sunshine to make their food. Where do fungi get food?
Elder offspring: Hmm ...
Dr. Free-Ride: Where do they grow?
Younger offspring: In the woods, on tree stumps and near tree roots!
Dr. Free-Ride's better half: That's right. Some of them eat decaying matter. Others even suck the sap from trees -- that's why they grow near tree roots. Do you remember how fungi grow?
Elder offspring: There's a big part that's underground.
Dr. Free-Ride's better half: That's called the "mycelium".
Younger offspring: My ceiling?
Dr. Free-Ride's better half: Mycelium. Do you know why mycelia make mushrooms?
Younger offspring: Mushrooms are the mycelium's babies.
Elder offspring: It's a way to spread spores around so more mycelia can grow.
Dr. Free-Ride: Yeah, the mushrooms are even called "fruiting bodies" because they hold spores the way fruits hold seeds. Do you remember any of the mushrooms we found with your cousins last summer?
Elder offspring: We found some hedgehogs.
Dr. Free-Ride's better half: Chanterelles.
Dr. Free-Ride: Horn of plenty.
Younger offspring: Puffballs.
Dr. Free-Ride: Yes, but I don't think those are edible.
Dr. Free-Ride's better half: We didn't see any of those, did we?
Elder offspring: No, I just like saying stinkhorn.
Do not eat any mushrooms you gather unless you are absolutely certain in your identification of them! Seriously, there are some very poisonous mushrooms out there that are, apparently, really tasty -- until liver failure kicks in. "Collecting" mushrooms with a camera is your safest option.
Pictured above is an Amanita muscaria, another mushroom you shouldn't eat. The Vikings ate them, however, to become "fearless" before battle. If they ran out of the mushrooms, there was an alternative source of "fearlessness" -- one could drink the urine of another Viking who had eaten the mushrooms. Don't try this at home!
There's some evidence that the A. muscaria that we see here is different from the European one (if that makes any sense). I still wouldn't eat it but it's hardly our most dangerous Amanita. And are the mushrooms the babies or the fruiting bodies?
You know, it sounds gross, but I've heard that you actually CAN eat puffballs. (http://www.wildmanstevebrill.com/Mushrooms.Folder/Puffball%20Overview.h…)
[See kids, this is one of those instances where if you don't know for sure, you don't ingest.]