Fun with Fungi at Grass River Natural Area

Have fun with fungi with Arlene Westhoven, Grass River Natural Area naturalist.

Most people hunt mushrooms in the spring seeking morels. However, we see more varieties in late summer and throughout autumn because there is more to decay as the season goes on. Fungi are decomposers that break down dead organic matter, returning nutrients to the environment. Some are parasites and sap nutrients from or cause death to their hosts. Remember, some mushrooms are poisonous. The best advice is to hunt mushrooms for interest, not for the table.  Here are a few interesting favorites:

Puffballs can be as small as crabapples or as large as volleyballs. Some have smooth, leathery skins, others have geometrically patterned coverings. Slice a puffball in half to see the white spores like a marshmallow throughout. As the spores mature they darken, dry out and are poofed out through an opening in the top. A giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea) can release 7 trillion spores. Some make an explosive sound which gives them their name, Lycoperdon.

Chicken of the Woods (Laetipori sulfureus) is a fungus that grows on dead wood or dead parts of living trees. It looks like a stack of bright orange, yellow-edged ruffles. The fungus has fine pores on the underside. It’s a spectacular sight because of its color and abundance.

This group, the inky caps (Coprinus spp.), grows in large colonies in poor soil. It’s seen along road edges, sidewalks, and other gravelly areas.  It looks like a lawyer’s wig, hence the name shaggy mane. As it matures and opens, the white gills change to pink, then black, at which point the caps become a dark ink and drip away to…nothing.


The Cortinarius group contains many species with violet caps, stems, and gills. This, the C. violaceous, is the most purple of them all. The color comes from an ink containing iron ions. It has widely spaced gills and a veil over the cap.




Thanks to naturalists at GRNA and mycologist, Franny Bluhm, for content and to GRNA Education Director James Dake for his photos. At Grass River, experts are always available to check out a mushroom photo and also conduct Fungus Forays. Call 231-533-8576 to obtain scheduling information.