Mushrooms are delightful but all-too-often-unsung blooms of the winter, and this has been a great year for them. I highly recommend that you put on a raincoat right now and head for the woods, even if–maybe especially if–you haven’t paid much attention to the fungal kingdom before. Scuff around in the leaves. Look for flashes of color. Be ready to get your knees muddy. Though easy to overlook, mushrooms (and other fungi) are pretty dazzling when once you begin to notice them. There is no need to ID what you are looking at to delight in their myriad patterns, shapes, colors, and sizes–though keying can be really fun too.
This year, some of the memorable mushrooms I have seen include a tiny white parasol growing from the very tip of a cut-off branch, as if the still living tree were holding it up. There have been toadstools broader than my hand, and an orange-headed crowd gathered on a cow pie (yes, I made a political joke when I saw that one; how could I resist?). At Christmas, the woods near my house were carpeted with little delicate white mushrooms as dense as a field of spring flowers; in many places you couldn’t walk without stepping on them.
If for some reason you aren’t rushing out the door right now to go mushroom hunting, you might be interested in a field trip that the Marin Mycological Society is co-hosting on Point Reyes next weekend, along with the Marin chapter of the California Native Plant Society. Check the CNPS web page for more details. And have fun out there!