The rains that began in August and forgot to stop gave Manitoba one of its wettest Septembers on record. And that has contributed to a bumper crop of urban mushrooms.
Walk around Virden or any town with grassy lawns and parks, and you will notice a wide variety of fungi springing from the damp ground in greater numbers than a normal year.
The August / September rains stimulated the miles and miles of fungal threads that live below ground, prompting them to send more of their fruit – mushrooms – to the surface.
Having a lawn with lots of mushrooms is actually a good thing. It means your soil is healthy, because fungi eat decomposing plant matter and dead wood, turning it into nutrients that help other plants.
In short, mushrooms on the surface indicate new soil is being built below.
One of the most common mushrooms to spring up around Virden this fall is the shaggy mane (see images). They’re easy to identify because of their upturned scales and are delicious sautéed in butter if you harvest them when they’re fresh.
But if you wait too long to pick shaggy manes, a creepy transformation happens. Their plump white bodies shrink up into a flat cap with black, inky edges that appear to melt and drip making them look like a whole other species.
The weirdness of fungi doesn’t end with their thousands of varieties of mushrooms. Recent research shows the underground fungal filaments known as mycelia are connected to the roots of trees, shrubs and some plants.
They provide a network (often compared to the internet) that allows trees to communicate with each other. In fact, their work transferring nutrients among trees is so critical, scientists say the forest could not survive without them.
So next time you go for a walk in the woods or around town, see how many fungi you can find.
They’re fascinating beings – neither plant nor animal, some edible some not – that are even more remarkable when you realize how much invisible activity is going on below the mushrooms and right under our feet.