Joining a mushroom club can provide the right education for those interested. Mushroom clubs can be found throughout western Washington as the region’s climate provides a prime habitat for a wide range of species.
Rachel Bouchillon, 2023 president of the South Sound Mushroom Club, became a mushroom enthusiast when she was a kid, and her passion has only grown. Bouchillon said she would go out and hunt for them in the woods to try and identify them.
According to its website, the South Sound Mushroom Club, based out of Olympia, “is dedicated to the finding, identification and eating of mushrooms.”
What makes mushrooms so interesting is the fact that what a person sees above ground is just like an apple on a tree, Bouchillon explained.
“What you’re seeing above the ground is the fruit of the mushroom, and the bulk of the organism sort of exists as this mesh underground, sort of like roots, called mycelium,” she said. “And so you might have a bunch of crazy, different ones just popping up within the same area just because that mycelium exists in the soil. You might not be able to see it, but it’s just kind of everywhere, and it allows the mushroom to grow and crop up over really enormous areas.”
Not only do mushrooms have mycelium existing in the soil, when the fruiting body above ground begins to die off, it reproduces through spores, which act as the seed of the mushroom, Bouchillon said. Spores are microscopic to the naked eye.
“When you think of a conventional mushroom, it’s got those gills on the bottom of the cap and that’s where all the spores are stored,” Bouchillon said.
Some of the most common mushrooms that Bouchillon spots in western Washington include the genus Russula, Chanterelles, King Bolis and Fly Agaric.
Mushrooms of the Russula genus are small with a white stem, a white gill system and a mostly red cap, she explained. The Fly Agaric mushroom is what people consider the “Mario mushroom,” seen in the Nintendo Super Mario Bros. video game.
Unlike last year, the conditions have been just right this fall for an “explosion” of mushrooms throughout western Washington, she said.
“Last fall was one of the worst mushroom seasons that western Washington has ever had,” Bouchillon said. “Last year’s fall [mushroom season] lasted like four days, and we essentially went straight from a hot, dry, smoky summer to a really cold, wet winter. And once the temperatures consistently dip down below freezing at night, there are a lot fewer mushrooms that pop up.”
The fast change from summer to frosty nights last fall gave most fungi a small window to grow. This season, by contrast, has been fairly normal, Bouchillon said.
Now since joining a mushroom club, she has become more involved in the fungi scavenger world.
“I encourage people, if they’re interested, to get involved with their local clubs,” Bouchillon said. “A lot of times the clubs will lead forages and teach people more about mushrooms. It’s a really great way [to learn], especially if you’re interested in eating wild mushrooms. It can be kind of a dangerous hobby if you don’t know what you’re doing.”
She added that education is crucial when it comes to mushroom foraging.
“It’s totally important because there’s some that are pretty hard to mistake for poisonous ones, but there are so many poisonous look-alikes that, if it’s your first time seeing one, it could be really easy to just mistake it for the wrong one,” Bouchillon said.
As there are no Clark County-specific mushroom clubs, people can visit the Chehalis-based Southwest Washington Mycological Society’s website, swmushrooms.org, for more information.
For Bouchillon’s South Sound Mushroom Club, visit southsoundmushroomclub.com.