The days grow shorter, and the weather chillier. While fall is often seen as mushroom hunting prime time, winter is a less appealing time to pull your boots on and head for the woods. To be fair, the cold months hold fewer prizes for foragers in general compared to other times of year, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing worth looking for. Let’s look at a few of the mushrooms that may still be growing in winter.
Yellowfoot (Craterellus tubaeformis)
Once considered a chanterelle in the Cantharellus genus, the yellowfoot has since been moved to a newer genus. It does look quite similar to a golden chanterelle with its bright yellow stipe and false gills, but the brownish colored cap sets it apart. It will grow on both soil and rotting wood, so be careful to distinguish it from the similar, toxic jack o’ lantern mushrooms (Omphalotus spp.) Yellowfoot mushrooms are especially abundant on the west coast, but smaller populations may be found around the Great Lakes and forests of eastern North America.
Hedgehog Mushrooms (Hydnum spp.)
There are multiple edible Hydnum species, like H. umbilicatum and H. repandum. You may find a hedgehog mushroom fruiting of one species or another fruiting just about any time of year, and they’re well known for persisting even after the onset of winter. At first glance, these orangeish-colored mushrooms might be mistaken for a chanterelle. But instead of gills (true or false) under the cap, they have unique little spines that give them their name. Hedgehog mushrooms are most common on the west coast of North America, but can be found more sparsely in the Appalachians and around the Great Lakes.
Wood Ear (Auricularia spp.)
Not the prettiest or most flavorful of mushrooms, the wood ear is still worth picking if you’re lucky enough to find it. A. auricula-judae and A. polytricha are especially notable edible members of the genus. Look for them growing in mountainous areas on rotting logs. They look similar to other cup fungi, but they have a more flexible, rubbery texture rather than brittle.
Witch’s Butter (Tremella mesenterica)
There are multiple, not especially closely-related species of small, jelly-like orange fungi that grow on rotting wood. Tremella mesenterica is known to be edible, though it doesn’t have a lot of flavor on its own. It grows on hardwood trees rather than conifers; the witch’s butter on conifers, Dacrymyces palmatus, is of questionable edibility and should be avoided. T. mesenterica is most common in eastern North America and the west coast, rare in the Rockies.
Blewit (Clitocybe nuda)
If you’re comfortable differentiating between various species of gilled mushrooms, give the blewit a try! They’re often some pale shade of purple or pink, though many have a background of brown with a purplish tint. The aroma is said to resemble orange juice so make sure you give suspected blewits a sniff. Also, take a spore print–the blewit has white to pale pink, while toxic Cortinarius lookalikes have brown spores.
Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus spp.)
Most commonly seen in warmer weather, the oyster mushroom will occasionally pop up with a winter flush. Look for these flat white mushrooms growing in clusters on decaying hardwood trees. They often have an aroma reminiscent of black licorice. The similar-looking angel wing mushroom (Pleurocybella porrigens) has thinner flesh; while it was once considered a safe edible, in recent years it has been the likely cause of multiple cases of encephalitis, to include several that were fatal.
Written by Rebecca Lexa
Rebecca Lexa is a certified Master Naturalist in the Pacific Northwest. She teaches classes on foraging and other natural history topics, both online and off. More about her work can be found at http://www.rebeccalexa.com.
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