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Know something about wild mushrooms before you pick them

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By Sylvia Brockner

August is usually a rainy month. I had thought that it might be drier this year due to all the rain we have had in June and July, but the rain seems to be continuing into August.

The woodlands are moister than they have been for many Augusts, and there is a colorful array of fungi everywhere. One of the most colorful ones is the fly amanita, and it is also deadly. Beware of eating wild mushrooms for some are deadly poisonous. You don’t feel the effects of them until they have passed through your stomach, and it is too late to pump them out. Others are so good that it is a shame to not eat them. One summer, which I spent at the Buffalo Museum of Science summer camp in the Allegheny Mountains, we ate mushrooms every night in the lab while we pressed our specimens collected that day. However, we only ate those collected and identified by the botany professor. He was so knowledgeable that we all trusted him and really enjoyed our midnight feasts, but I still don’t know enough to safely identify wild mushrooms for human consumption and therefore never collect them to eat myself.

If you are interested in eating wild mushrooms, the Denver Botanic Gardens has had classes in the past and a very active mycological club. If you want to eat wild mushrooms you should take classes and join the club, so you can go out with others and learn to recognize the good and the bad. If you are serious about mushrooms, call the Denver Botanic Gardens and find out when their next class is and when the mycological club meets. Otherwise do what I do, enjoy their beauty but don’t eat.

August is also gentian month. Almost all of our native gentians can be found in bloom in August at different altitudes. They are still one of the most admired and loved wildflowers. The deep purple-blue of the common pleated gentian, pneumonanthe parryi, which grows along many mountain trails, starts blooming in July but blooms well into August in many of the mountain parks and national forests.

Another gentian that has several closed flowers in a cluster is a paler blue and is found in open forests and grassy meadows at lower elevations usually about or just below 8,000 feet. They too bloom well into September.

Other gentian family members to look for are the star gentian, swertia perennis, that grows in marshes and willow thickets where their feet are always wet. Another is gentianodes algida, which is a very late bloomer. It is the last flower to bloom on the tundra above timberline before it freezes over. It is often found sticking up through the first snow where its white and greenish translucent flowers are difficult to see because they are the same color.

There are other gentians in our mountains that I look for every summer; the most beautiful of them and the most admired by many is the Rocky Mountain Fringed Gentian, gentianopsis thermalis, which is still abundant in the wet meadows of South Park. They can often be seen along the roadways in the wet ditches but are also spectacular in some of the meadows that are almost always private property.

If you wish to go into these areas, it is best that you drive to the nearest house and ask the owner if you may go on his property to see or photograph his fringed gentians. I have never been refused permission to enter a farmer’s property when I have asked, but they may become less accommodating if you don’t. Fringed gentians are born on a leafless stem with three or four flowers in a cluster. Another very similar gentian is the perennial gentian, gentianopsis barbellata. It too is a deep purple but is more shy than the Rocky Mountain fringed gentian for it is usually found hiding beneath some larger plant. Both of these gentians have fringed petal tips, but the fringing runs a bit down the sides of the Rocky Mountain fringed gentian petals. The perennial gentian is thinner and smaller and all in all reminds one of a ragged little urchin when compared with its elegant relative. Do try to visit South Park before the month is up for the Rocky Mountain fringed gentian display is spectacular.