eBay came to my rescue, and I was able to acquire and scan the (unfortunately brief) article from volume 42, number 1 of Pacific Horticulture.
It’s still amazing to think that this large, vibrant, weird-looking flower wasn’t noticed on a hillside surrounded by some of the most expensive real estate in the world (and close to several world-class universities) wasn’t discovered until 1971. It’s unnerving to think how close to extinction this species came.
Laetiporus gilbertsonii is another of my favorite mushrooms. It was the first wild mushroom that I’ve trusted enough to eat, and it’s the wild mushroom I use as an ambassador for foraging and wild mushroom consumption. To me at least, this mushroom tastes like fried chicken breast, with occasional bursts of fresh lemon. The texture is firmer than normal cooked white mushrooms. It’s absolutely fantastic, and probably the best thing I’ve ever eaten. No joke.
I first learned about this mushroom via a hilarious series of blog entries from the now defunct “zine/blog” The Sneeze. For a few years in a row, Steve documented the growth, consumption, and theft of what he called a “tree brain” from a landscape tree in front of his house. After reading Steve’s description of eating Chicken of the Woods for the first time, I decided that one of my bucket-list life goals would be to track down, identify, and eat this beautiful fungus. I quote from “Steve, Don’t Eat It! The Tree Brain“:
The hunks got more intensely orange as they cooked down and soon it was go time. As I promised my wife, the plan was to chew it and spit it out. BUT IT WAS SO GODDAMN DELICIOUS IT HAD TO BE SWALLOWED. IT WAS THE BEST MUSHROOM I’VE EVER HAD.
Luckily for me, it’s not an uncommon species, and I’ve found it several times in and around my home in Sacramento.
That said, there are definitely tricks to eating this species that one should mind. As a caveat, these tips are intended to cover L. gilbertsonii; I do not have firsthand experience eating L. conifericola, L. sulphureus, or other non-gilbertsonii members of the genus.
1. Did you find this mushroom on a Eucalyptus? If so, you should almost certainly avoid eating it. Some people reportedly can eat this species from Eucalyptus to no ill effect, but I personally experienced gastrointestinal upset after eating two small test portions of L. gilbertsonii from a Eucalyptus host on two occasions. It’s a shame too, since this fungus seems to do really well on Eucalyptus, and Murphy’s Law dictates that the best-looking specimens will be found only on that cursed tree!
2. Did you find it on a tree in a polluted environment? If so, I’d pass on eating it. I couldn’t resist trying a small test sample of L. gilbersonii that I had found on a huge old valley oak on the side of a very busy road. The mushroom tasted really off, and I’m attributing the bad taste to environmental pollutants.
3. Is it mature enough, but not too old? In my experience, immature chicken-of-the-woods does not taste good. Wait until it has developed distinct pores, lobes and shelves, and hopefully has obtained some nice reds and oranges.
5. Have you eaten it before without ill-effect? Finally, some folks react badly to mushrooms that are widely considered to be safely edible. I suspect that there might be a psychosomatic root for this, but it’s always a good idea to eat only a small test portion of new-to-you mushroom species. (This rule can be hard to follow if the test portion is especially delicious, but it’s a very good rule.)
I’m privileged to work with bats. It’s always a thrill to approach a mist net and see if I’ve been lucky enough to have caught a bat, but it’s especially exciting to realize that there’s a hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus) stuck in the net.
Hoary bats belong to the genus Lasiurus, which means “hairy-tailed.” They have beautifully-furred wings and uropatagiums, with silver-coloration that gives a frosted or “hoary” appearance. This group’s thick coats are necessary since they tend to be solitary foliage-roosters. In other words, they don’t huddle together for warmth in close crevices or under exfoliating bark like other bat groups.
These bats are strong flyers and voracious insectivores. They’re rather intimidating to work with, with huge mouths filled with sharp teeth. They’re not a “beginner bat” when one is learning to work with bats due to their powerful bites and strong wings. In my experience, they do calm down quickly after being disentangled from mist nets if they’re handled gently and appropriately. I took the video below of a hoary bat that we had just retrieved from a mist net. The bat has not yet calmed down, and its angry vocalizations are most impressive.
I’ve had the privilege to work on radio-telemetry studies of this species. After radio-tagging and releasing lactating female hoary bats, we release them (as quickly as possible!) to return to their pups. Then, the next day, we track to their maternity roosts where they sleep during the day with their nonvolant (non-flying) pups.
Unlike other most bat groups, Lasiuruan bats have four nipples, visible in the image below. This allows them to nurse multiple pups. I suspect that the survival rate of Lasiuran pups is lower than the survival rate of pups from other bat groups because they are foliage roosters. Not only are the pups exposed to the wind shaking tree branches, but they’re also vulnerable to predation by corvids & raccoons.
Per the Western Bat Working Group, hoary bats strongly prefer to eat moths, but are known to eat other insect orders as well. There’s some thought that hoary bats may themselves be carnivorous on other, smaller bats such as Parastrellus hesperus, but there is not (that I’m aware of) anything more than anecdotal evidence for this. From what I’ve heard from bat researchers, playing hoary bat calls is known to cause other bat species to disperse from an area.
Speaking of hoary bat calls, they’re rather low-frequency, usually between 20 and 25 kHz. They have a characteristic “U” shape that is similar to their small cousins, the western red bats (which call at ~ 40-45 kHz).
Not to denigrate the fine science behind subtle species differentiation by any means, but the discovery of C. tiburonensis in 1971 was the discovery of something *really new*. Calochortus is a very charismatic genus, filled with plants with some of the most colorful, showy, and in this author’s opinion, objectively beautiful inflorescences in botany. To discover a new Calochortus is remarkable indeed, especially since tiburnensis looks nothing like any other Calochortus species found in California.
The presence of C. tiburonensis (and other endemic botannical rarities) helped save Ring Mountain from development. As a result, it serves as an island of preserved biodiversity in a sea of some of the most valuable real estate in the world. Ring Mountain sticks out from its surroundings, and is one of my favorite nature destinations in California.
This mushroom species is really charismatic, and is one of my favorites. To start, its gills bioluminesce. The bioluminescent effect is subtle, and I’ve only photographed it once. I had to expose this mushroom for 30 seconds at f/3.5 and ISO 3200 in order to show the glowing green bioluminescence.
Mykoweb states that the spores are “6.5-8 x 6-6.5 µm, globose to ovoid, smooth, nonamyloid. Spore print cream to pale yellow.” I’m still nailing down my microscopy technique, but the spores I measured were mostly globose and averaged 6.1 µm.
This toxic species is sometimes mistaken for edible Chanterelles (Cantharellus sp.), but they’re easily differentiated by their true gills and olive tones. Despite its toxicity, O. olivascens has a fantastic use. It’s a remarkable dyeing mushroom, capable of producing a variety of tones, from gold to purple, depending on the dyeing methodology used.
What a wonderful common name this gorgeous little lily has! I can’t think of many weirder, grosser, or just plain nastier common names for plants. Despite its name, the flowers on this plant are bizarre, delicate, and beautiful, with stunning purple-brown stripes on the petals. The leaves have beautiful deep-jade mottles. I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t identify any foul smells from the flower, even though the Jepson Herbarium states that they’re “ill-scented when fresh.”
There’s another member of the Scoliopus genus, S. hallii, found in Oregon that is named, appropriately-enough, the Oregon fetid adder’s tongue. The flowers seem to be smaller, and they’re much yellower. It’d be fun to visit them to compare them in person some day.
It was amazing how many people walked by me on the main Muir Woods trail without being in the least bit curious about this wonderful little flower. The rangers were cool — they enjoyed chatting about some of the early-season flowers in the park and were mildly amused that we’d driven to see a small flower instead of the huge trees. My wife commented that she’s becoming “a nature snob,” who likes smaller, subtler trails and adventures instead of super-crowded places like Muir Woods. Maybe we’d have better luck visiting on a weekday, and it’ll certainly be nice when our girls are a little older and we can tackle the more challenging hikes again.