Mycology of Mount Lemmon
Blogpost written PCMN Josh Skattum, Cohort 3
The incredible diversity of Arizona can be observed due to changes in topography as well as a change of seasons. Since this last July I started exploring a diverse “kingdom of life” within one of Tucson’s local Sky Islands. I found myself climbing our mountainous terrains, wading through the overspill summer monsoons, and kept my eyes to both the ground as well as towards upright trees for the glimpse of a fleshy, spoor bearing, living structure. Fungi!
This blogpost is not intended to be used as a resource for identifying edible mushrooms. However, many hobby mycologists enjoy embarking on ventures in search for their own personal consumption. There are many online resources and communities for delving into that content, starting with the Southwest Arizona Mushroom facebook group. Instead, this is intended as a personal narrative as an Arizona Master Naturalist exploring a new topic of interest as well as sharing the educational resources used during this experience.
According to several sources, it’s estimated that there’s over 144,000 identified species of fungi on our planet. Many scientists still aren’t sure on how many more unidentified species there actually are. Here in Arizona, and especially Tucson, we experience a strong change in topography in the form of “Sky Islands”. Tucson’s Sky Islands are surrounded by the Sonoran Desert. This region’s change in topography, resulting in 8 distinct biomes along the Catalina Highway, is also characterized with change of season by summer monsoon rains. The intersection of this diverse topography and weather results in an array of microclimates as observed with the emergence of Southwest Arizona’s fungi.
I had very little to no knowledge on mycology and I am still learning each time I set out to look for mushrooms. Several educational resources have been used during my forays including: a gifted book called “The Complete Mushroom Hunter”, inaturalist, and gleaned information from the fb group disclosed above. I learned quickly from inaturalist that for an easier experience making identifications, photographing certain characteristics is needed for a completed identification. For example, for amanitas mushrooms, photos should be taken of both the annulus (if any) as well as the base of the mushroom. There is also an in depth guide found on inaturalist.
My book Mushroom Hunter also shared some naturalist perspectives used for mushroom forraying:
Know your habitat type. Hiking through various habitats, such as mixed hardwood forests, can help broaden the kinds of fungi you will find by exploring diverse spaces. Understanding the kind of “micro” and “macro” ecosystems your mushroom grows on can help narrow in on your searches. Questions that can help with this includes: Does this mushroom typically grow on top of the ground? Below the ground? Along a vertical (possibly living) tree? Does it grow into a decomposing tree? What species of trees can it typically be found on?
Searching during the perfect season. The portion of the mushroom that we come across is the fruiting body of the organism. Most of the fungus lives below ground and we are selecting to find them during a specific period of their life history. Understanding that timing and what you’re looking for will impact what you find! Typically our ideal timing here in Southwest Arizona coincides with our end of summer monsoons tailing into October.
Sight, Taste, and Smell?! More than just your sense of sight can be used for identifying mushrooms. Some experienced foragers may also use their sense of smell, investigating for a specific or similar aromas, as well as their sense of taste. I did not venture that far with my identification skills as being new to this topic.
Mushroom Field Groups. Using this guide helped me learn about different “Mushroom Field Groups”. I enjoyed this part of the book the most as it helped me start to develope a pattern of identification while piecing together various natural history as well as physical characteristic’s of fungi. These groups included: Morels and Cup Fungi, Truffles, Chanterelles and Black Trumpets, Tooth Fungi, Coral Fungi, Boletes, Polypores, Jelly Fungi, Mold Fungi, and Giant Puffballs.
I made over 30 iNaturalist observations documenting various fungi while hiking Mount Lemmon. They range from “research grade identifications” to “pending at various levels”. You can view some of my favorite observations below! Mycology identification is still a learning process for me. While writing this blogpost I even came across a project group called “Mushrooms of the Santa Cantalinas 2022”. I’m excited for next season and to continue to delve into more content while contributing to similar projects. You can also learn more by navigating through my iNaturalist observations, assisting with identifying and documenting these species! By clicking on the URL title above each image below you’ll be taken to that specific iNaturalist observation! All you will need to do is log into your account via the links and you can then also join in on the fun!
“Smoky Polypore”: Was noted that to assist with this identification, may need to know tree species as well as a spore print/ID.