Story and Photos by Joan Herrmann

Whereiwander… I am feeling a little melancholy as summer is beginning to slip away and evidence of autumn is emerging. As always, the sadness of summer lost is quickly replaced with colorful photographic opportunities, cooler nights, and delightful discoveries. Many of the discoveries appear in the form of, multicolored mushrooms, which seem to magically appear overnight. Fungus (pl. Fungi) is apt to be found in a multitude of shapes, colors, and textures. Although the common names of many sound quite peculiar, they really are appropriate. While exploring you may discover Dead Man’s Fingers, Stinkhorns, Earthstars, Pigskin Poison Puffball, and the extremely tiny Fuzzy Foot as well Bird’s Nest fungi. The mushrooms which I am concentrating on, in today’s column, are mushrooms that for the most part are NOT edible, but they are interesting to see and photograph. Some are less than a half-inch in height and width, so a camera or magnifying glass will enhance the details for you.

Cooler weather and a few rainy days are perfect for mushroom materialization. They may be found growing on live trees, decaying logs, in meadows, along roadways and trails. Look for them in the woods, near streams, and brooks and in your lawn and gardens. I am sure that foraging for mushrooms (looking for edible fungi) is exciting and rewarding, but to look for them without a qualified mycologist, could be a reckless or even fatal experience. Many interesting edible mushrooms can be purchased at numerous local markets or online. There may even be a local mycology club in your area, where members participate in foraging for fungi. Mushrooms are a choice food for many wild critters, especially snails and slug. Mice, chipmunks, squirrels, deer, bears, and numerous insects also depend on them as a food source.

Mushrooms to look for this time of year may include jelly fungi, puffballs, polypore, coral fungi, tooth fungi, boletes, stinkhorns, and chanterelles. The portion of the mushroom which we see whether it is cap shape, ball shape, a fan, club or coral shape is the fruiting body or reproductive structure of a fungus. The rest of the fungus is underground and is the vegetative body which is made up of multiple fine filaments called hyphae.

Dead Man’s Fingers (Xylaria polymorha) can be found pushing up from the ground or on decayed wood. The club-shaped “finger” or a group of two or three, black to grayish colored digits may be found growing together during the late summer through November. Fuzzy Foot (Xeromphalina campanella) is found growing in numerous dense clusters on tree stumps, especially after a few days of rainy weather, from July through October. Fuzzy Foot is quite tiny and has brownish orange-colored caps and hairy tufts at the stem base which gives them their common name. Coral fungi are very noticeable throughout the woods this time of year. Look for Spindled-shaped Yellow Coral (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) and also Yellow-tan Coral (Ramaria aboetoma). You may also discover coral fungi that are purple, pink, or white. Each of these fungi looks like an underwater sea treasure. Some of the really minuscule fungi may be found in the mulch in your garden or on mulched pathways. They are worth finding as they are tiny treasures. They are Bird’s Nest fungi shaped like miniature bird’s nests filled with eggs. Their cup-like structures are actually filled with “lentil like” spores capsules. A single drop of rain may splash one of the spores onto the ground and it will then begin its next phase of reproduction. Jelly fungi growing on a decaying log looks and feels like “gummy bears”. Witch’s Butter (Tremella mesenterica) can be found on deciduous wood like oak, beech, and alder. It is a yellow to yellowish-orange in color and is another jelly type fungus.

Polypores are generally found on both living and dead trees and they are usually easy to find and photograph. It is true that they may be edible, but I again suggest that unless you are truly certain, that you do not use them as a food source and instead just admire or photograph them. Artist Fungus (Ganoderma applantatum) that you will find growing on trees is a wood-decaying fungus, but for many artists, it is a canvas. A friend of mine likes to create mini landscapes on this sought after fungus. Her grandfather was a doctor in the Adirondacks in the late 1800s and his drawings on Artist Fungus are still a family treasure. Quite often while attending a woman about to give birth, he would fill the waiting time, by creating a tiny landscape on an artist fungus and date it. Look for Timber Polypore (Fomes formentarius) which resembles a horses’ hoof and can be helpful when starting a campfire. Hemlock Varnish Shelf (Ganoderma tsugae) is a polypore that looks like it has been shellacked. And one more favorite is the Resinous Polypore (Ischnoderma resinosum) which appears to have drops of dew or rain on it.

Fungi are essential and extremely important in our lives particularly when we become aware of the role which they play in our ecosystem. The decaying of wood, in which fungi breakdown the lignin and cellulose, returning astonishing levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is truly amazing. Fungi play a large part in getting us or keeping us healthy with medicines like antibiotics that are used in healing. Anti-rejection drugs used in organ transplants also rely on certain fungi.

There are numerous field guides available today in libraries and local bookstores. It is helpful to take one along on a field trip or perhaps photograph or sketch a copy for identification at a later time. I have found several mushroom guides that are specific to the Northeast of North American. If you would like the titles and author’s names please email me at Autumn is a wonderful time to be looking for phenomenal fungi. Perhaps we will meet on the trails, whereiwander…

As a Professional Nature Photographer, Naturalist, and Outdoor Educator, Joan Herrmann has been teaching and doing programs for Schools, Garden Clubs, Libraries, and Nature Centers, about 38 years. After moving from the Rochester area in 1995 she began her Photography business, Essence of Nature, and also became a co-owner of The Artworks in Old Forge, New York. As a docent at Munson, Williams, Proctor Arts Institute, in Utica, New York she has been educating children and adults, for nineteen years.

In 2007 she began working with the Black River Outdoor Educational Program (BROEP) and in 2013 and 2014 did a week-long summer program at BROEP in conjunction with Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC). Using her love of both nature and photography she created a Flora/Fauna outdoor educational program teaching students (ages 6 to 14) the joys of nature and creative photography skills.

Joan’s love of nature has been a lifelong study of Birds, Wildflowers, Mosses, Ferns, Trees, Amphibians, Reptiles, Grasses, Insects, Spiders, Tracks, Scat, and Galls. She has assisted in the cataloging of all trails used by the hiking Coaches and photographed and identified seasonal Flora.

Since October 2016 she has been writing a bimonthly nature column with Adirondack Express Newspaper. In October of 2019, she began a bi-monthly column with My Little Falls Newspaper. You may reach her at