I Just Can’t Help Myself

Mushrooms! Oh my gods MUSHROOMS! I Returned to Mount Tamalpais with Colin on Wednesday thinking I’d really like to make it farther down the Cataract Trail to the falls since they’re often credited with being the most impressive waterfall in the bay area. I have to say they were gorgeous, but I was still way more excited about all the mushrooms I found. We haven’t had rain in about a week, so I figured other foragers, both human and animal, would have gone though and taken anything good by now. Just in case, I strapped my knife to my backpack and tucked a couple paper bags into my pocket. Good thing I did, because, boy, was I mistaken! We brought home about as much as we could carry in the fabric grocery bag I’d brought along on a whim.

I literally squealed when I spotted these two Coccoras

By the end of our hike we were loaded down with a couple pounds of what I’m pretty certain is Phaeolus Schweinitzii, also known as the Dyer’s Polypore. It grows on fallen trees and burried deadwood, and is easy to spot because of its bright yellow edge and velvety brown top. It feels like a wet sponge to the touch and will hopefully create a golden hue in my yarns when I dye this weekend.

Half of the Dyer's Polypore I collected.

Another cool dying fungus I found is the Jack-O-Lantern Mushroom (Omphalotus Olearius) which is used to produce a purple dye tone. I’m really excited about this one since purple is always a hard color to capture and the swatches I’ve seen dyed with this are some of the richest shades of violet I’ve seen.

Jack O Lanterns make you sick if mistaken for Chantrells, but are a great dye

I also found lots more of the Delicious Milk Caps (L. Rubrilacteus) and a couple more Coccoras (Amanita Lanei).

Delicious Milk Cap which we nicknamed the Bleeding Milk Caps because of their red latex.


The larger of these two Coccoras measures about 7 inches across

We spotted a couple other mushrooms I haven’t IDed yet. If you have an idea of what they are, let me know.

There were dozens of this mystery fungi growing in just one cluster

This one is a really beautiful example of the Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma Fasciculare) and I’m sincerely wishing I’d brought a bunch home since it turns out to be a great dying mushroom as well.

These poisonous little Sulphur Tufts create a pale yellow dye.

I’m definitely hooked on this new hobby. Mushrooming is a really great motivator to get me hiking again. I suffered a knee injury two years ago which limited my physical ability to hike and backpack like I used to. Because I lost my access to the great outdoors for a while, I became discouraged and felt unmotivated to even try hiking very much. It took me a while, but I’ve realized now that the only way to get back onto the trails I love is to start small. I’m trying to go hiking at least once each week and mushrooming is a bit of extra mental effort that means I get a reward for my efforts at the end of the day. I’ve been feeling better about myself and about my weak knee and am slowly getting more confident. It’ll be a while before I’m backpacking the Sierra again, but hey, it’s November. I’ve got ’till spring to get there, right?

Part of our bounty laid out and ready for processing

5 thoughts on “I Just Can’t Help Myself

  1. I’d be really interested to see the colors that come out of the dye mushrooms. You should post followup pictures!

  2. amy says:

    These are beautiful photos Freya. Cataract falls was a beautiful trail and I’d love to go back sometime… Be careful with those Amanitas since as I’m sure you know there are some very dangerous relatives out there (Amanita muscaria, phalloides, etc.!) I look forward to seeing the results of your dyeing experiments, good luck and I hope they turn out well! =)

    • Amanita Lanei are an interesting varietal since they look totally different in the fall than they do in the spring. In the fall they have a distinctive cottony film on a gold to brown cap, a detached veil and volva on the stalk. In the spring, they are almost indiscernible from the Death Cap Amanita since they are more convex, pale and sometimes yellowish or greenish without an obvious cottony covering. I’m confident in my identification of the Fall Coccora, but only because I was able to check with other shroomers and two books when I was learning it. I wouldnt trust myself to ID one in the spring though, so I’ll stick to hunting them in the fall.

      Disclaimer: My description is only of the most general characteristics and shouldn’t be used to identify a mushroom. Go on a foray with experienced mushroomers who can point out differences and who have guides you can check before eating what you find. I only know just over a handful of mushrooms on sight and only half of those are edible.

  3. I suspect the mystery fungus is the Honey Mushroom. I’ll be picking it next time I spot it!

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