2018-09-06 / Local News

Fall a time for foraging for fungi

By Jen Murphy
of the Enterprise staff


HAYDEN LaPAUGH holds his fungi after hunting for morels with his father, Eric LaPaugh, this past spring. The LaPaughs often hunt for mushrooms in Leelanau County. HAYDEN LaPAUGH holds his fungi after hunting for morels with his father, Eric LaPaugh, this past spring. The LaPaughs often hunt for mushrooms in Leelanau County. “It’s about being out in nature, going slow, and getting to know what’s around you,” said mushroomer Eric LaPaugh. “It’s really calming and therapeutic.”

At 7 years old, LaPaugh became a frequent hunter of mushrooms in Leelanau County. He remembers hunting for morels every May for his grandfather’s birthday. The last 10 to 15 years, LaPaugh has expanded his fungi-finding palette to include species he considers “easily identifi- able” — chicken of the woods, hen of the woods and oyster mushrooms.

“It’s a treasure hunt, too. You’re out wandering in the woods. You just go out and wander, and you happen to find mushrooms,” he said. “It can be challenging, but it can be rewarding as well.”


THIS BEAUTIFUL bounty of chicken of the woods was scoped out by Leelanau County mushroom hunter Eric LaPaugh. THIS BEAUTIFUL bounty of chicken of the woods was scoped out by Leelanau County mushroom hunter Eric LaPaugh. With such a dry early-to-mid August, finding mushrooms has been a challenge without much luck for LaPaugh.

My how things have changed with several inches of rain and warm temps. Now he’ll bringing home mushrooms meals at a time.

“Mushrooms are a staple for our family,” he said.

Learning to identify which mushrooms were edible took LaPaugh quite a bit of time. To gain knowledge, LaPaugh said he took a class and read books. He also taught wilderness survival classes, and foraging for foods is a big a part of that experience.

“Do as much research as you can,” he advised newbies. “Read, take a class. You really want to go out with somebody who knows. You don’t want to eat the wrong mushroom.”

That’s what the experts all say as well.

“You do this at your own risk,” said Linda Scribner, a certified wild mushroom expert licensed to commercially harvest and sell wild mushrooms in Michigan. “You have to take on that personal risk… There are a lot of things that are look-alikes. And that’s the danger.”

That said, the fall season is one of the best for mushroom hunting in Leelanau County.

“We have a unique corner of the world here in northwestern Michigan,” Scribner said. “You have so much variety going into the woods.”

According to Scribner, common varieties native to Leelanau include black trumpet, lion’s mane, chanterelle, hen of the woods, and hedgehog or sweet tooth.

Like LaPaugh, Scribner draws inspiration from the search.

“It’s mind-inspiring to be outdoors,” she said. “You use outdoor skills like using a compass and navigating, but the added bonus is you feel like the hunter-gatherer and can bring something home to the table.”

Scribner started early as well. She would travel north with her parents and grandparents every spring to hunt for morels.

“The men and children went out looking for morels and collected bags and bags of them,” she said. “We probably ate more than we should.”

Now at 70, she has devoted the last 10 years to becoming “a student of everything mushroom.”

“There is such a variety, they are so beautiful to look at - as beautiful as any wildflower - and they are so important in the scheme of nature. They are decomposers,” she said.

And there is so much people don’t know about them. According to Scribner, the marvelous mushroom is often misunderstood, especially considering its place in history. For example, people thought they were evil and had dark powers during the Middle Ages, she said. But at other times in history, mushrooms were only eaten by kings and queens.

She cautions mushroom hunters about feeling like an expert too soon.

“When I started being a serious student, it took me almost two years to understand the taxonomy and being sure what I was looking at was safe,” she said.

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