Red and Yellow Mushrooms from Maasto Hiihto

2022 January 16

The Maasto Hiihto trails up north of Hancock are primarily cross-country skiing trails[1], but they are also open for general hiking when there is no snow on the ground. When we went up there on August 2, 2020, it had been raining for a while, and the mushrooms were popping up in some numbers. There were quite a number of these mostly-red ones, which were about the size of the palm of my hand.

They had a cupped top, that could hold quite a bit of water

The gills were a pale cream color. These are the structures that release the spores, which is why the mushrooms exist in the first place.

There were also these fairly intensely yellow mushrooms, that mainly looked like irregular blobs.

So right off, I would have no intention of eating either of these. They look toxic. I mean, brightly colored things that you find in the woods usually are.

I think that the red one might be one of the species in the Russula genus. These are well known for growing in association with pine and spruce trees (which these were). Mushrooms like these form mutually beneficial associations with trees through their roots, they basically act as root extensions in exchange for receiving some nutrients from the tree. The most famous member of the genus is Russula emetica, which goes by the common name of “The Sickener”, which really suggests inedibility. It apparently has a harsh, peppery flavor and makes people vomit. On the plus side, it sounds like eating it is unlikely to kill you, or hallucinate. It will just make you extremely unhappy. There are some mushrooms in the Russula genus that are edible, although it sounds like all of them require cooking or other special preparation. Overall, I don’t think that it is worth the risk to try eating them, no matter how tasty someone may claim they are[2].

As for the yellow ones, on the one hand they have a kind of general resemblance to Chanterelles, Cantharellus cibarius, which are supposed to be edible and tasty. On the other hand, they have at least an equal resemblance to Omphalotus illudens, which is toxic (vomiting, cramps, diarrhea) and weakly bioluminescent. I didn’t take anywhere near enough pictures to tell which they were. Next time I find some, I’ll need to check to see what their gills look like, and see if they glow in the dark.

[1] Maasto Hiihto is Finnish for “cross country ski”. The Keweenaw is turning into quite a tourist area, particularly for winter sports. The cross-country skiing trails are considered world-class, and we almost always have adequate snow in the winter, even when other places don’t.

[2] Some years ago, I was visiting my parents and Dad happened to mention that he sometimes collected mushrooms to eat. Then he told me the story of how he once got one that wasn’t exactly edible, and after he ate it he spent a few hours giggling and walking into walls. Then he asked me if I would like some of the mushrooms he had just collected the day before. Um, no thanks, Dad. I think I’ll pass.

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