Fall is an excellent time to see fungi in Nova Scotia’s woods. Whether growing on the ground or on decaying trees, these life forms are varied, with some species being edible.
Of the ten types of fungi I managed to photograph in my yard in the past week, I am only confident of the identification of one, the orange jelly at bottom centre which is considered edible if boiled. Even with the use of an Audubon field guide, I’m still wary of my ability to correctly identify the less colorful varieties. Despite minute differences, they all look so similar to one another.
Although a distinction is often made between mushrooms and toadstools, with toadstools often considered toxic and with a tapered (as opposed to straight) stalk, there is no scientific basis for this. The edibility of mushrooms is best determined by experts rather than through trial and error. The adage that there are old mushroom pickers and bold mushroom pickers, but no old, bold mushroom pickers is probably true.
Due to the poisonous and hallucinogenic nature of some fungi, they have often been given magical properties in art and literature. Faeries and gnomes are frequently depicted beside toadstools as in the 19th century painting of Fairy Rings and Toadstools (shown above) by Richard Doyle. I once came across one of these ‘fairy’ rings in my yard. They originate in the growth of fungi around the outer edge of the decaying underground roots of old trees. It seemed pretty harmless in the light of day, but who knows what magic transpired in its midst during moonlit nights.