Late December Mushrooms in Salt Point State Park

Today I drove up to Salt Point State Park with Grant and our daughters to look for mushrooms. Salt Point is on the Sonoma Coast, located in traditional Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo territory. It's a popular spot for mushrooming because of the number and variety of mushrooms, and also because it's the only state park in the area that allows mushroom picking for personal use.

Unfortunately, it's very well-picked-over at this time of year. Obvious edible species like Matsutake and Black Trumpet are the sole prize of the earliest-rising mushroom pickers. But there are smaller, subtler prizes left behind for lazy late-risers like me.

Umber-Brown Puffball (Lycoperdon umbrinum)

Puffballs are easily overlooked in the forest due to their small stature, but they're one of my favorite edibles. Young puffballs (with flesh that's still all-white,) sliced and sautéed in a little olive oil, make a fine pizza topping. I left behind the specimen pictured above. That unusual pitting isn't normal, and I suspect insect larvae may be responsible.

But I did pet the mushroom. That fuzz was irresistible.

Golden Ear (Tremella aurantia) and False Turkey-Tail (Stereum hirsutum)

Speaking of amazing textures: Today was the first time I've encountered Golden Ear. Like others in its genus, this edible fungus is a parasite of other fungi - in this case, it's feeding on those orange False Turkey-Tails fruiting alongside.

The genus name Tremella means "trembling."

Cat's Tongue (Pseudohydnum gelatinosum)

The gelatinous critter pictured above goes by many common names - False Hedgehog, Toothed Jelly Fungus, White Jelly Mushroom - but my favorite is Cat's Tongue. The surface under the cap (hymenium) is finely-toothed, and the body of the mushroom is eerily reminiscent of gummy bears.

Cat's Tongue doesn't offer much in the way of taste, but it is edible and can be candied.

Jelly-Antler (Calocera viscosa)

Coral mushrooms like the Jelly-Antler have a tougher texture than the Golden Ear or the Cat's Tongue, but they share that same gelatinousness. This species also falls into the edible-if-bland category and has been used as a garnish.

This specimen is young. Jelly-Antlers darken and turn orange as they age.

Saddle-shaped False Morel (Gyromitra infula)

We found a half-dozen of the Saddle-shaped False Morels fruiting on a big, mossy log. I had no idea what they were when we encountered them. My brain immediately went to the False Morel (Gyromitra escuelenta,) but that species is much larger and grows on soil.

Like the False Morel, the Saddle-shaped False Morels produce the toxin gyromitrin, a known carcinogen. This is not an edible mushroom.

Witch's Hat (Hygrocybe conica)

I think of Witch's Hat as an iconic winter mushroom of Salt Point. We only found two today, but in a couple of weeks, they'll be popping up & brightening the understory all over the place here. These sticky-wet mushrooms blacken and liquify as they age.

Like other fungi in genus Hygrocybe, Witch's Hat is closely associated with mosses.

Emerging Slimy Purple-stemmed Cort (Cortinarius vanduzerensis)

We found dozens of Slimy Purple-stemmed Corts today, in various stages of development.

Maturing C. vanduzerensis

The caps of these mushrooms are remarkably slimy - a texture mycologists call "viscid."

Bolete Mould (Hypomyces chrysospermus) on an unidentified Bolete mushroom

We also encountered quite a few moldy mushrooms, including the one pictured above. The mold is a fungus, too - one of many that parasitize mushrooms. The liquid beading on the surface is waste water from the growing mold (guttation.)