While the rest of the Sunshine Coast was weighed down by a heavy blanket of clammy fog this past Saturday morning, seven intrepid Fibreshed members were basking in unseasonably balmy sunshine high up in the old- and second-growth forest of Big Tree Recreation Site.
Their mission? To suss out the kind of local magical mushrooms that yield Mother Nature’s very own fibre dyes. The summer of 2020 may have been notorious for all the wrong reasons (thanks, COVID-19), but it was the kind of on-again-off-again season of heavy rain between sunny periods that was textbook-perfect for optimum autumn mushroom growth.
And there they were. Not twenty yards from the parking lot was the first colourful find. Deliciously nicknamed Strawberries and Cream, the low clump of spotted red and white Hydnellum peckii was spotted instantly by the practiced eye of Fibreshed’s own mushroom expert Ann Harmer, popular author of Magic in the Dyepot, the bible of dying with colour-giving fungi. Out came the cellphones for this petite and relatively rare beauty’s photo op.
That was just the beginning. Over a long and leisurely wander, cameras clicked and the ground between tall and stately cedar, hemlock and Douglas fir delivered enough fresh ‘shrooms to fill several brown paper grocery bags. Most prolific were lobster mushrooms, their gnarled tops rising just above the forest floor: bright orange jewels in their settings of dark green moss. Once the first was discovered by Fibreshed member Merrily, the group scattered in all directions to hunt for more. With the combination of summer-like heat and strenuous exercise—scrambling over logs and rocks and up and down steep slopes in the pursuit of mushrooms in the wild is hard work, these energetic women can tell you—it wasn’t long before the crew had taken off their jackets and tied them around their waists to stay cool.
Ann stopped along the trail at one point, a perfectly-formed maroon-coloured mushroom in her hand. The rest of the team gathered around her. “People cringe when I do this,” she said as she bit off one edge of the mushroom with her teeth and gave it a light, experimental chew, but there was scientific method to her apparent madness. If your tastebuds pick up a hint of black pepper, she explained, it’s a good indication that the mushroom in question is not fit for the frying pan. Heads nodded in agreement: an exceedingly valuable thing to know.
“It gives a . . . temperamental purple,” Ann noted ruefully—clearly with more than a little first-hand knowledge—of one amber, slightly fuzzy-surfaced variety called Velvet Pax she had discovered clinging to the surface of a fallen tree.
Another uncommon find nearby, Hydnellum caeruleum, forming a cluster of small stems with wavy edges to the pale grey caps, would yield a soft blue-green dye when simmered carefully.
Oddly-shaped and aptly-named coral mushrooms joined the others in their paper bags as granola bars were distributed and the team took a short break. After a couple of hours in total—time that passed with surprising speed—the parking lot came into view at the end of the loop and the foraging session drew to a satisfying and productive end. Grateful thanks to organizers Ann, Lynda, and Merrily for another fascinating LearnAlong.
Images by Merrily Corder, Lynda Daniells, Ann Harmer
Text by Robin Razzell