This winter we’d like to ask all nature lovers on the West Coast to look out for 10 mushroom species that are rare or endangered, rarely encountered, and specific to a certain habitat. All 10 are easy to recognize and range in color from blue to yellow, with brown and white thrown in as well.
In contrast to plants, conservation efforts for mushroom species in the U.S. are rare. For instance, not a single mushroom species is included in the national Endangered Species Act. In Washington, Oregon, and Northern California there are extensive survey and management programs for rare mushroom species. These efforts are part of the Pacific Northwest Forest Plan, but most of California is not covered by this program.
We highlight that for mushroom species conservation efforts, habitat must be preserved, as fungi rely directly on other organisms for their nutrition. Many of the mushroom species that form mutual relationships with tree species will only associate with a particular tree genus; for instance, pungent slippery jack (Suillus pungens) associates with pines, but not with Douglas fir. Saprotrophic and parasitic species can also be very specific in their food and host choice.
Knowledge of the distribution and ecological requirements of mushroom species is still very limited. To bring some positive change, we started a pilot program, the West Coast Rare 10 Challenge, to monitor 10 species this winter on the West Coast. In this case, “we” is a group of like-minded people within the mycological community who would like to put mushroom conservation more in the spotlight.
In this project we cover a huge area, from Alaska to Southern California. We chose really different habitats, and we hope observers will record not only the 10 focus species but also others encountered on these mushroom hunts and enter them into one of the existing observation platforms, iNaturalist or MushroomObserver.
Of the 10 species we selected, I’d like to introduce you to two that might occur in the East Bay. First up is manzanita butter clumps (Pachycudonia spathulata), so far only known from a handful of localities in Sonoma and Napa counties and the Sierra foothills near Grass Valley. It grows under manzanita and madrone.
The other one is a beautiful yellow-gilled parasol mushroom, the yellow-gilled cypress lepiota (Lepiota luteophylla), which is only known from one location in the world, a more than century-old Monterey cypress plantation south of San Francisco. The undisturbed duff layer of this plantation harbors many rare parasol mushrooms.
Two of the 10 have already been found in the East Bay, the meadow amanita (Amanita pruittii) and the golden-gilled waxy cap (Hygrocybe flavifolia). Let me introduce you to these two species.
Amanita pruittii is a relative of the fly agaric with much more subdued colors and a different mode of nutrition: it is one of the Amanita species that lives off dead plant material and is not engaged in a mutual relationship with tree species. It was found twice this September profiting from the fog drip in the area, once near Lake Merritt in Oakland and once in Tilden Park. In Oregon it grows in wet grasslands, where it seems to fruit after disturbance. We’d love to get a better idea about its fruiting patterns.
Hygrocybe flavifolia is a slimy waxy cap with a milk-white stem and a yellow flat cap. As the Latin name suggests, the gills of this species are also yellow: flavus = yellow, folia = gills. It has been found under redwood and California bay laurel.
The whole list plus informational pamphlets on each and every single one of those 10 species can be found on the West Coast Rare 10 Challenge web page. There you’ll also find information on what to do if you find one of these species. We would love to see the observations featured on either iNaturalist or MushroomObserver.
You can also always contact me if you have questions:
ecvellinga [at] comcast [dot] net
— Else C. Vellinga