In Bloom: ‘shrooms
August 3, 2006
“In Fruit” might be a better title for this week’s column, as the mushrooms are currently giving the flowers a run for their money in the showy department. Three key conditions – good winter snowpack, warm days and recent heavy rains – have combined to make for what may turn out to be one of the best mushroom seasons in years. A hike sure to please both mushroom and flower-lovers alike is the Last Chance Creek Trail to Tellurium Lake in the upper Fryingpan Valley. Starting at 9,400 feet near Burnt Mountain in the Holy Cross Wilderness, this gentle trail follows lovely Last Chance Creek for two miles. Here the classic late-summer bloomers – yarrow, asters, harebells and goldenrods – dominate the meadows. In the woods, diminutive wintergreens like wood nymphs and one-sided wintergreens reward the alert flower hunter.The prime flower action, though, is in the high, wet meadows near Tellurium Lake. Here, elephantheads and fringed gentians paint the meadows purple. Also to be seen are clusters of delicate, white orchids, including lady’s tresses and white bog orchids. As you move into the border between the meadow and the spruce forest, the mushrooms take over. As all local mycophagists (mushroom eaters) know, one of our most delicious local mushrooms, Boletus edulis, aka king bolete or porcini, is usually found near spruce. This is because spruce, like 90 percent of land plants, have developed a mutually beneficial relationship with fungi by which the plants’ roots receive minerals from the fungi’s underground parts. In turn, the fungi, which lack chlorophyll and thus are unable to make sugar on their own, get sugar from the plants’ roots. It is for this reason that king boletes and other choice edibles like chanterelles (usually found near pines) can’t be commercially cultivated.Near the boletes and as colorful as any flower is the famed Amanita muscaria, or fly agaric. As if advertising its mind-altering properties, this bright red mushroom with white spots looks right out of “Alice in Wonderland.” It is, however, quite poisonous, and like all the other jewels currently decorating our mountains should be marveled at, photographed, but otherwise left alone.Getting there: From the intersection of Two Rivers Road and Midland Avenue in downtown Basalt, drive just under 27 miles past Ruedi Reservoir to dirt road 501 on your left; drive 2 1/2 miles to Burnt Mountain Road on your left; drive 4 miles to the Last Chance Creek trailhead.