Pacific Northwest coral mushrooms diverse in color

September 25, 2007 

One look and it’s clear why Ramaria are commonly referred to as coral mushrooms.

“They look much like the branching corals on the bottom of the sea. They are often quite colorful,” says Erin Moore, a member of the Northwest Mushroomers Association in Bellingham.

In fact, such mushrooms can be found in shades of yellow, bright orange and red. They also are found in tan colors.

Coral mushrooms can be large and weigh several pounds, according to Moore.

There are over 35 species of such mushrooms in California, many more in the Pacific Northwest and at least 100 in North America, according to David Arora in his book “Mushrooms Demystified.”

They grow in forests.

“The fungi itself, or the strands (the hyphae) of it in the soil, as with many of our forest mushrooms, lives in close partnership with the smallest roots of conifer trees,” Moore explains. “So this mushroom is found only in forests and, indeed, usually in mature and old-growth forests.”

As to whether you want to eat them, Moore has this to say: “There are many different coral mushrooms in our Northwest woods, and distinguishing one species from another can be an adventure. Although some corals are edible and have been collected for the cook pot for many years, some are quite bitter and, though not dangerously poisonous, can have a laxative effect on some people.”

Sources: Erin Moore; “Mushrooms Demystified,” by David Arora

Reach Kie Relyea at kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com or 715-2234.

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