Robert McCloskey wrote of the “edible fungus” in the wilderness that kept the early settlers from starvation in the fictional Homer Price.

While this song is part of a fictional story, it does underscore the popularity of wild mushrooms. Commercially available, buttons, portobellos, shiitakes, and other varieties just aren't enough for those who prefer foraging for wild mushrooms throughout Illinois.

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“Morel mushrooms definitely rule the spring, but there are quite a number of other edible mushrooms that can be found growing in Illinois, including pheasant backs, oysters, chicken-of-the woods, chanterelles, lion’s mane, black trumpets, and my personal favorite, the hen-of-the-woods,” says Chris Evans, University of Illinois Extension forestry specialist.

Facts about Fungi
While many people are avid foragers, some may not know what mushrooms are. Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of larger organisms called fungi. Fungi typically grow as a dense mass of thread-like cells called mycelium.

“Think of a mushroom as the apple and the fungus as the tree,” Evans says. “If you ever pulled loose bark off of a rotting log, the white or light brown threads that fan out across the surface of the rotting wood is part of the mycelium and is the main body of the fungus."

As mycelium collects energy and grows, it can produce mushrooms for reproduction, to form and release spores.

Types of Fungi
There are many different types of fungi and not all of them produce mushrooms. Even the mushroom-producing types of fungi vary greatly in their life histories.

“Some grow on living trees, others only on dead wood, still others are only found growing out of the soil,” says Evans. “One strange fungi, the lobster mushroom, actually is a parasitic fungus that attacks other fungi.”

Fungi are not like plants; they do not produce their own food through photosynthesis. Instead, fungi captures its energy from other sources. Many species are pathogenic, meaning they attack and feed off other organisms.

“The honey mushroom fruiting bodies are a select, edible mushroom,” Evans says. “but the fungus itself, Armillaria ostoyae, is actually a serious Article continues after sponsor message