Fungi Fun

Here in South-central Alaska, Fall and the State Fair arrive around the same time, as does the seasonal rain. But that’s all right because rain triggers the emergence of mushrooms. And we have a wide variety of fungi to enjoy.

Inky caps—Coprinus species

Coprinopsis atramentaria, commonly known as the common ink cap, tippler’s bane, or inky cap, is an edible mushroom, but you dare not consume an alcoholic beverage with this mushroom as it will act as a vomitive and you’ll sure lose your meal. It was once named Coprinus atramentarius, as you’ll see in older field guides. Thanks to Dr. Gary Laursen for the corrections.


First a disclaimer: I’m not encouraging anyone to eat wild mushrooms without proper identification and guidance. In true Laidback Gardener fashion, I suggest just taking walks to observe, photograph and enjoy the different varieties of species in your area. A good field guide is helpful and there may be opportunities for guided walks in your area. Here in Alaska, we have the Girdwood Fungus Fair and Fairbanks has its own celebration. There is virtually a rainbow of colors and some ugly varieties too, but all deserve some respect for their hard work of recycling nutrients.

Common types are the many varieties of gilled mushrooms, boletes, polypores, club and coral fungi, and many more.

Personally, I’m not an eater of wild mushrooms but more of a fungus fan. Edibility is often questionable anyway, so I just enjoy this amazing life form and its beautiful weirdness. And even mushrooms considered edible often have a lookalike that may not be palatable. Furthermore, people may react differently when consuming a mushroom considered edible by most.

Consuming alcohol with some varieties may prove dangerous, and even fatal.

Unknown beauty (sorry, not an expert!).


Most mushrooms do not have a common name, so if you want to learn more about them, you will be by necessity, learning proper names. A good field guide specific to your locale can be helpful. To start, there is a small booklet called Mushrooms of the National Forests of Alaska available from the Forest Service. You can download a copy from the website at:  Mushrooms of the National Forests in Alaska ( It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the science behind mushrooms, lichens and other fungi, but again, I suggest just sampling the information available and not get in too deep. Unless you want to!

Mushrooms aren’t plants because they don’t produce their own food by photosynthesis, but they are now in their own kingdom. Fungi are important for the recycling of nutrients back into the environment. They decompose organic matter and acquire nutrients through absorption.

Spore prints. Photo: Wikipedia

Dangerous and Beneficial

According to the Mushroom Council, some fungal species contain toxins that are deadly to animals and humans, others have beneficial uses, such as for the production of penicillin and related antibiotics.

Some species can be easier to identify than others and some can be confused with fungi that could be harmful. It’s helpful to be aware of the location and the substrate (what the mushrooms are growing on i.e., grass, tree species, etc.) and you can learn to take a spore print to further proper ID. See How to: Spore Prints – North American Mycological Association ( for good information.

Some Alaskan Varieties

Amanita muscaria var. flavivolvata, Fly Agaric.
Mushroom showing the gills underneath the cap.
Clavaria rosea.
This is the birch polypore, Piptoporus betulinus and was used as “punk” to transport fire embers from site to site by early First Nations. When dried, ground and smoked with pipe tobacco it also provides an analgesic (aspirin-like) effect. 
Puffballs, Lycoperdon species. The name loosely translates to “wolf fart”.

Alaska’s Mushrooms, A Wide-Ranging Guide by Gary Laursen and Neil McArthur is a great resource in my part of the world.

There are mushroom growing kits available commercially, maybe even at your local garden center.

See Fungi Perfecti (at for some interesting supplements. Paul Stamets founded this company and has some great information via his books and catalog.

He is the author of six books (including Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save The WorldGrowing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms, and Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World), he has discovered and named numerous new species of psilocybin mushrooms, and is the founder and owner of Fungi Perfecti, LLC, makers of the Host Defense Mushrooms ( supplement line.

Paul is a pioneer of “mycoremediation”, using fungi to decompose toxic wastes and pollutants.

Another resource:

How Mushrooms Grow | Mushrooms 101 (

Patrick Ryan is an Alaska Master Gardener and the Education Specialist for the Alaska Botanical Garden. A retired elementary school teacher, Patrick is a member of the Anchorage Community Forest Council and sits on the board for Alaska Agriculture in the Classroom.

4 comments on “Fungi Fun

  1. I’m grateful for this. Everybody has some spots they hope never change. In my instance, my childhood home in the picturesque Coaticook Valley.

  2. These mushrooms look both strange and beautiful.

  3. I was on a workshop with a mycologist who is also a biologist. He told us that the dried and powdered birch polypore is good for cancer. I did a quick search to find this link (not to his work):,to%20slow%20or%20even%20stop%20new%20tumor%20growth.

  4. Ellen Asherman

    Fascinating. Could we have a blog on my core mediation?

Leave a Reply

Sign up for the Laidback Gardener blog and receive articles in your inbox every morning!

%d bloggers like this: