A pearl oyster is a common edible mushroom found in Petrifying Springs Park.
PHOTOS: THOMAS CORRAO

Capturing Kenosha: On the hunt for wild mushrooms

Hunters find success at Petrifying Springs Park
Thomas Corrao

By Thomas CorraoKENOSHA.COM

Recently retired after 25 years with the Kenosha Sheriff’s Department, Corrao enjoys fishing, gardening, foraging for wild foods, golfing and photography. His favorite subjects are sunrises and sunsets. Corrao's future retirement plans include traveling the United States in a recreational vehicle with his wife and documenting their journey through a travel blog and YouTube channel.

I have been hunting wild mushrooms for a few years now and have noticed that mushroom hunting seems to be coming back into style.

When I started, there was only one other person I knew that went out on hikes specifically looking for mushrooms. Today, however, there are many Facebook groups specifically focused on mushroom hunting and identification. If you’re a seasoned fungus hunter, these groups provide a place for you to share your expertise. If you’re a novice, they give you a place to find help identifying the mushrooms you’ve discovered.

Although mushrooms can be found from spring to late fall in Wisconsin, late summer to early fall is by far the best time of year to find them. You will find the most varieties growing during this prime season.

The hardest question when getting started in mushroom hunting has to be where to look? Well, I’m going to help you out with the answer. Over 46 percent of Wisconsin is covered by forest, so there are plenty of opportunities for mushroom hunting in the state and Kenosha definitely is blessed with wood lots that perfectly suit the environment required for mushroom development.

Mushrooms form from mycelium found in the soil. This mycelium thrives on dead and decaying wood and foliage on the forest floor. When looking for a promising spot to hunt mushrooms, look for wood lots that contain dead, rotting, downed or injured trees. Mushrooms are a fungus that helps break down decaying wood or roots.

It may seem a bit strange, but you’ll need to look up as much as you look down when mushroom hunting. This is because that’s how you’re going to find the dead trees where the mushrooms will be developing. Look for oak or elm trees that have died off, for these are the trees that I’ve had the most success finding mushrooms around in our area. 

Wisconsin’s many parks with their temperate climate and wooded landscapes make them a wonderful place to go mushroom hunting. In fact, one of my favorite places to go mushroom hunting in Kenosha County is the woods surrounding Petrifying Springs Park. I’ve had quite a bit of success there and have seen many other people out searching for mushrooms there as well as berries and wild leeks.

I think the resurgence in mushroom hunting is partially because of the pandemic and people just wanting to get back out to reconnect with nature. Some of you may be wondering by this point in the article if it’s illegal to pick mushrooms in county or state parks. Well, while it is against the law to molest, deface, or remove any natural growth or natural archaeological feature from Wisconsin parklands, the picking of mushrooms for personal use is allowed. The only exception to this rule is in state natural areas where a permit may be required. 

There are many varieties of mushrooms growing wild in Wisconsin and I’m not going to be able to cover the whole state.

Some common edible mushroom varieties that I’ve found growing in our county are Morels, Honey mushrooms, Chicken of the Woods, Oyster mushrooms, and Pheasant back mushrooms. Petrifying Springs also has Jack-o-Lantern mushrooms, which are look-alike mushrooms sometimes confused for Chanterelle mushrooms. Jack-o-Lanterns are poisonous. Never eat any mushroom you haven’t 100 percent positively identified.

Always take a field guide out with you or utilize an app on your phone to help you positively identify the mushrooms you find. A good field guide will give you descriptions and images of any mushrooms likely to be growing in the area. Field guides also list any poisonous mushrooms that look similar to ones you might want to pick, helping you to avoid any potentially fatal mix-ups.

For beginners, it’s best to go out with a group or individual that knows about harvesting mushrooms. At least the first few times because you’re more than likely going to find different new mushrooms every time you go mushroom picking. Until you’re confident, you should utilize the knowledge of others and maybe even join a local mycological society. The people involved in these societies have years of mushroom picking experience and can help you avoid any poisonous mushrooms. 

One thing to learn right away is that there are many more poisonous mushrooms than edible ones. Even experienced pickers can make mistakes now and then. Never eat wild mushrooms in their raw state.

Always, always cook them!

If it is a mushroom variety that you’ve never eaten before, cook it and eat only two cooked teaspoons of them when trying it for the first time. Wait for 24 hours to make sure there is no delayed or allergic reaction because mushrooms are tolerated differently by different individuals. Also, it’s best not to drink any alcohol the first time you try a new mushroom species as this can increase the likelihood of having an allergic reaction.

The mushrooms pictured with this article were all found in Petrifying Springs Park.

They are all for the most part edible except for the Jack-o-Lantern Mushrooms which I will clearly label as poisonous. I would strongly advise anyone interested in foraging mushrooms to seek out a knowledgeable person to take them for their first hunt.

Always remember that there are thousands of different varieties that grow in Wisconsin. Only eat mushrooms that you have 100 percent identified as safe to eat. If you find some mushrooms on your own, please have an experienced mushroom hunter check them out before you eat them.

Nature is all around us even in an urban environment. I strongly urge everyone to get out and experience nature and the beauty of the great outdoors. Even if you’re not going to pick them to eat, mushrooms are a fun thing to look for and you’ll have a great time as well as get some exercise while searching the woods for them.

Who knows? You may even meet some wildlife. Have a great day everybody.

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