Friday, May 3, 2013

Sandy Aftermath, and the 2013 Mushrooming Season

One of my best hen-of-the-woods trees, downed in hurricane Sandy
Most likely the mushrooms will continue to fruit

There has been a lot of talk on Northeast foraging boards about the damage and aftermath of hurricane Sandy, and it's effect on the 2013 mushrooming season.

In this region, 2012 was generally regarded a boom year for the "chicken mushroom" or "sulfur shelf" (Laetiporus sulphureus & cincinnatus); and this may be in large part due to damage from Irene in 2011. Laetiporus species can be either parasites or saprobes (decomposers) on trees and logs. They generally can't get enough of a foothold to fruit on living trees, unless the trees are weakened through other environmental factors, such as insect or human damage; but even if not fruiting, the mycelium (the actual organism that makes the mushrooms) can be present, and just waiting for the right time. . . like if a hurricane knocks the tree over.

Though this tree is very decomposed, chicken mushrooms can be found on trees that have just fallen,
and even on living, weakened trees. The year after a hurricane is likely to be very productive.

Oyster mushrooms, like these, generally don't appear till the
tree has been dead for some several years.  

So now with trees down from two hurricanes, 2013 should be an amazing year for the chicken mushroom. And as those trees begin to decay over the next few years, even more decomposing mushrooms should be able to move in. It may take 5 years or more, but we should see a rise in oysters (Pleurotus species), pear-shaped puffballs (Lycoperdon pyriforme), dryad's saddle (Polyporus squamosus) & more.

Parasitic mushrooms may or may not
continue to fruit after the death of their host tree. The Hen-of-the-Woods (Grifola frondosa) is one of the most popular edible parasitic mushrooms, and I have seen it continue to fruit on tree stumps that have clearly been dead for many years. In fact, some of the most abundant fruitings I have seen have been on stumps, this is because the mushroom can also become a saprobe, decomposing the tree.

On a related note, all my best Hen trees came down in Sandy. This is probably due in part to the parasite causing rot in the "butt" (base) of the tree. With a weakened core, the oaks weren't able to withstand the force of the winds, and split at their base. (See the above photo).

Honey mushrooms go right on living,
well after the death of their hosts.
Another group of parasites, the voracious honey mushrooms (Amarilla species), are also unlikely to be effected by the death of their hosts. They continue to fruit on fallen trees for a few years, and they spread most often through underground rhizomes that can extend 50 or more feet--so the deaths of a few trees won't halt their advance.

That said, the majority of gourmet mushrooms neither parasites nor decomposers. Morels, Boletes (including the King Bolete, or Porcini) and Chanterelles are all mycorrhizal, meaning they living in symbiosis with trees. With the death of the tree, the mycelium may die and immediately cease fruiting, unless it has symbiosis with multiple partners. (It's 2013, we don't judge). Even if the fungus survives, loosing one key tree may be traumatic enough to prevent it from producing mushrooms for a year or two.

So that's my take on the next couple of years for mushrooming in the Northeast--barring any further natural disasters, of course. I would love to hear what you think the future holds for foraging mushrooms.


  1. My best morel spot was destroyed by Sandy. What was woods is now a log strewn field. Some years i picked pounds of morels out of this stretch...this year i found 4 mushrooms there. The positive side is that this forced me to explore some new spots!

    1. :( I am glad you are upbeat about it, if I lost a nice patch I would probably be ranting and cursing and going nuts! But as long as you are the positive type, you may want to check your old spot this fall, next spring, and next fall, to see if Chicken mushrooms and/or dryad's saddle have moved in--it may not be the same, but it might be a consolation prize.