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Central Park in New York City -- 2006

An in-depth study of an area: a year-long “Bio-Blitz”

by Gary Lincoff

New York City’s Central Park:  Interactive map || Gary’s photos || slideshow || Central Park Conservancy
Before the Bio-Blitz: January-June
July in the Park with Mushrooms: 24-hour Bio-Blitz and another month
After the Bio-Blitz: August-December
Central Park MUSHROOMS: 20 QUESTIONS after a year’s (2006) survey looking for them
2006 Checklists: | month by month | first seen: monthly/biweekly | pix taken on site |

New York City’s Central Park?

Central Park covers more than 800 landscaped acres in the very center of New York City, between 59th and 110th Streets, from 5th Avenue to Central Park West. Pale Male and Lola, the pair of red-tailed hawks, have their man-made new nest on a building near 72nd and 5th, just across from the eastern border of the park, and a stone’s throw, as it were, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (79th and 5th).  Carnegie Hall is just a few blocks south of the park. Lincoln Center is just west of the park, and the Cathedral of St. John and Columbia U. are north of it. Central Park is ensconced in a cultural matrix.

It is a place for summer symphonies, operas, and theater, and more visibly for sunbathers, dog walkers, horseback riders, soccer players, joggers, boaters, skaters, and horse-drawn carriages. Like Carnegie Hall, Central Park is a cultural creation. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted 150 years ago, its lakes and waterfalls are artificial, its grassy areas are mostly sodded, and the trees are planted (except for a few that are seeded by birds). Everything seems to be just where it has been intended. Everything, that is, except mushrooms.

The mushrooms of Central Park are the wild things of the park, the sometimes spectacular, colorful, odorous, unexpected, and mostly unknown “things” that just appear and then disappear, almost overnight.

This is a report on the mushrooms of Central Park, the things as magical as anything in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” or “The Magic Flute,” yet real. From January to December, fresh mushrooms can be found in the park. Some are good edibles; some are not; and some are poisonous, even deadly. At least one is a powerful hallucinogen growing right in the middle of the city! Altogether, there are more different kinds of mushrooms (200+) in Central Park than there are different kinds of trees (175). What they are, and when and where they occur, is the subject of this article.


Before the Bio-Blitz: JANUARY to JUNE


by Gary Lincoff 2006

 “you whose pastime is to make midnight mushrumps” / The Tempest, v (i)

Seeing a play by Shakespeare in the park as twilight descends and darkens the surrounding trees and the fireflies flash on and off and the moon slowly rises, it is hard not to believe that you’re somewhere out in a forest. But whether it’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream or The Tempest, it’s not a real forest that we see. Neither is Central Park, although the trees are real enough, and the mushrooms.

If 2005 was a hot, dry season for mushrooms, and most people would rather forget about what they couldn’t find, 2006 has been one of those “perfect storm” years. The rains came at just the right time, with the right amount and nicely placed 5 or so days apart. There were a few exceptions, like the first part of August (when it was just too hot and dry) and part of September (again dry, but not hot), and cold weather did seem to come earlier than usual this year, the last half of October instead of late November. But, that said, it was a marvelous year for mushrooms. From January oysters, to morels in May and an endless summer of collecting, then a countless number of early fall hens-of-the-woods, everyone everywhere around here collected more than enough of many good edibles.

Central Park has a similar but different story as only a piece of landscape architecture can have compared with natural woodland. Still, there are over 25,000 trees in Central Park, over 175 different tree species, and best of all for mushrooms, there are at least 5000 oaks represented by 15 different species. Never the less, when you go into a natural woodland, you can expect to find dozens of mushroom species and hundreds of mushrooms under the trees, on the trees, everywhere you look. Central Park is different. You can walk through the park and see no mushrooms at all. It’s a matter of knowing where to look, how to look, and when to look for what you want, or to be prepared for whatever you chance to see. Or, keep in touch with others who walk through the park and ask them to email you whenever they see something.

Mushroom hunting in Central Park in 2006 began for me not long after New Year’s. The first fresh mushroom every year in the park is the oyster mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus. It can nearly always be found during a winter thaw. And there’s not a month in which it can’t be found. The winter oysters tend to be somewhat curved and gray capped and thick-fleshed. The summer oysters tend to be flat capped, thin-fleshed, and white. This year I found oysters in the park every month but March and April, but I’m sure they occurred there somewhere.

Although I looked for inky caps throughout March, I didn’t find any until mid-April, but then, by the 21st they were everywhere. In March this year all I found was a dozen or so of the Deadly Galerina (Galerina autumnalis). Ursula Hoffmann called in mid-April to say that she had just seen some white mushrooms in the Shakespeare Garden. A few days later, with Elinoar and Eyal Shavit, I went to the Shakespeare Garden. We didn’t see any white mushrooms, but we did find inky caps and a large Psathyrella hydrophila complex cluster.

 In May the mushroom seen everywhere in wood chips was the spring Agrocybe, Agrocybe dura, and it was huge and abundant and coming up fresh every few days into mid- June. In addition, May brought out more inky caps and oysters, plus the wine cap (Stropharia rugoso-annulata), the wood ear jelly fungus (Auricularia auricula), the fawn mushroom (Pluteus cervinus), and the mock oyster (Phyllotopsis nidulans).  The dryad’s saddle (Polyporus squamosus), which always appears in May, as a poor consolation prize for those unsuccessfully seeking morels, turns out to be an almost monthly ‘repeater.’ This year I found it on different trees almost every month from May through September.

During a late May walk through the park’s wooded northwest corner, just below the Great Hill, Irene and I followed some new trails through the most forested part of the park. We found a log full of an inky cap that wasn’t Coprinus micaceus. It was hidden by the undergrowth, and we wouldn’t have seen it except that a nice cluster of oysters had just caught our eye: serendipity. The most extraordinary mushroom, however, was the spring Agaricus, Agaricus bitorquis. I first saw it May 25th in the interface between the sidewalk and the Central Park West wall near 96th St. It has been coming up regularly for six months since then.

The first week of June saw the emergence of grassland mushrooms, like the mower’s mushroom, (Panaeolina foenisecii), and the dunce cap (Conocybe lactea), both of which kept reappearing after every rain into September. Two coprini, Coprinus quadrifidus and Coprinus plicatilis came up on wood or in woody debris. The common Psathyrella (Psathyrella candolleana), and at least one other species, came up in wood chips, often in masses. Tubaria, an LBM (little brown mushroom) came up in the thousands in wood mulch. The year’s first Russulas appeared in mid-June under pin oak, and these included the edible green ones, like Russula aeruginea, and the reddish Russula mariae with the bloom on its cap and blush on its stem.

The most extraordinary mushroom, however, was a stinkhorn. Most of those who saw it and had an opinion, called it Mutinus elegans. In fact, it had been collected a few years back, and it was recognized as a different species, or even genus, called Phallus rubicundus. It has come up almost continuously from mid-June until late October. (Another stinkhorn, Phallus ravenelii) didn’t start appearing until mid-September, but then kept appearing off and on into mid-November. Two other stinkhorns that used to be common in Central Park wood mulch, Mutinus elegans and Stinky Squid (Pseudocolus schellenbergiae, never made an appearance this year. But, because Phallus rubicundus was so conspicuous, so abundant, and so common, it was hard not to be impressed by the frequency and ubiquity of its appearances. Even when it looked like there was no more room for more fruiting bodies, the ‘eggs’ dotting the wood chip mulch told a different story.

The 2006 Central Park Bio-Blitz occurred over the 24-hour period between noon on June 23rd and noon on June 24th. It rained overnight and most of the day on the 24th, but it hadn’t rained for much of two weeks before then. We didn’t expect to find much, but with a number of collectors looking in the designated area in the northwest part of Central Park, we did manage to accumulate a respectable number of mushrooms – about 38 in all. And, since it looked like we were suddenly in a rainy setting, after a couple of dry weeks, it seemed quite reasonable to extend the mushroom part of the Bio-Blitz an extra week or so. After all, in any randomly chosen 24 hour period, it’s not very likely, especially in Central Park in the middle of New York City, to see anywhere near the diversity of fungi that you would encounter in the woods outside the city, or that you could compare with the diversity of organisms representing different kingdoms of life. Well, an extra week turned into an extra month, and new mushrooms kept appearing in the designated study area of the 2006 Central Park Bio-Blitz. So, late June and July, from the Summer Solstice for a month and more, the weather was perfect for mushrooms fruiting nearly every day, even in a heavily trafficked inner city park.



How to study an area in depth for one  month


Introduction: Rain and foray dates, areas searched, methods used; comparisons with other areas

Fleshy Fungi Checklist for July 2006

Checklist sorted by Habitat/Substrate

Examples of population flow in 7 mushrooms


The month of July is usually very dry in the New York City area. This year we had over 6” of rain in Central Park. Not only that, but the rain was nicely distributed so that we had measurable to hard rain on July 2, 5, 6, 13, 18, 21, 23, and 28.

I made 19 forays into the park specifically to look for mushrooms. [These were on July 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 14, 15, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, and 31.] The importance of these dates has to do with the rainfall during July. I wanted to go before, during and after downpours to see how long it takes different mushrooms to appear and disappear.

Gene Yetter and Aaron Noravian also came to the park to look for mushrooms. Together, we found more than 50 different kinds of fleshy mushrooms (gilled mushrooms, boletes and puffballs) during July. On no day when the park was searched did we not find some fleshy mushrooms!

The incentive for this effort came about thanks to the 2006 Central Park Bio-Blitz, an event that was held in the 24 hours between noon, June 23 and noon, June 24. This event was sponsored by the Explorer’s Club, the E.O. Wilson Foundation, and the Central Park Conservancy. We extended the hunt for mushrooms by a week, and then a month, because we know that mushrooms, unlike trees and birds, only appear when the conditions are right. We wanted to see what would appear after, even well after, the official end of the 24 hour Bio-Blitz. What we discovered was that the Bio-Blitz produced about 40 different mushrooms of all kinds, while the following month of our collecting produced a total of more than 120 different mushrooms.

Although 50 fleshy mushrooms for July in Central Park sounds very good to me, it is important to remember that any single day of collecting in the woods north of the city, like our mushroom walk on July 22 along the Stony Brook Trail in Harriman State Park produced more species (80+) than an entire month of collecting in Central Park! That said, though, we can now look at Central Park to see what is special in the park and what else we can learn about the park’s mushrooms. Because I live less than 5 walking minutes from the park, it’s possible to get to areas in the park nearly every day. Sometimes it’s very early in the morning or near dusk. The biggest detriment to collecting in the park is the reality that it is a big city park. There are crews always removing fallen woody debris (a good substrate for mushrooms), mowing the grassy areas, and otherwise manicuring the park. In addition, camp groups come to the park to play, and they play on mushroom sites, leaving the areas bare even of grass when they leave. An additional difficulty is that mushrooms coming up in grassy areas shaded by trees, or in wood chip mulch, can be extraordinarily difficult to see. In many cases you have to stand still and just stare at the ground, especially for mushrooms that are hidden by grasses or are the color of the wood chip mulch.

The areas covered on a nearly daily basis during July include everything along or near the bridle path on the west side of the park from 86th Street (the southern end of the Central Park Reservoir) to 102nd [the northern end of the Central Park Pool and Loch (where the waterfalls are)]. A checklist is one way to represent what was found, and this is a good way to learn about what came up during July.

Another way is to track a few of the mushrooms as they appeared and disappeared during the month. A question I had at the beginning was what kinds of patterns, if any, would be revealed by a systematic search for mushrooms in this very small area of the park. Other questions that presented themselves as the work proceeded were (1) how does this area differ from other areas in Central Park, (2) how does this area differ from other parks in New York City, (3) how does this area differ from woodsy areas outside the city, such as Harriman State Park. Comparing the area searched with other areas in the park, it seems that it was the best area I could have chosen. Even the Ramble was disappointing compared to the area I chose along the bridle path. Comparing the area with other parks in the city, well, on the NYMS walk in Van Cortlandt Park on July 16th, the diversity of mushrooms was different but the species count was about the same for a given day, about 35. Comparing the area with areas outside the city, Harriman State Park, because it is a densely wooded natural area, produced much more abundance and species diversity on the day of our mushroom walk there (July 22nd), but it should be pointed out that the same walk along the Stony Brook Trail which we did last year on the same weekend in July produced almost exactly the same checklist for the Stony Brook Trail as this July’s walk, the only difference being that this year, with the same species recorded, there was a greater abundance of mushrooms.

The Central Park Checklist of Fleshy Fungi for July 2006

Classification below is based on The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms.
[Photographs of many of these mushrooms can be found in field guides, such as the Audubon Guide, or on the web by using GoogleImage.
Caveat: Always compare a photograph with a good description of a given mushroom. There is no guarantee that the images seen on GoogleImage are correctly identified; indeed, some are clearly incorrectly identified.]

Polypores: Agaricaceae



Laetiporus cincinatus Agaricus bitorquis Inocybe abundans (?) Lactarius subdulcis (?)

Leucocoprinus (Lepiota) Inocybe albodisca Lactarius oculatus (?)
Boletes:   cepaestipes Inocybe caesariata Russula aeruginea
Boletus campestris Lepiota americana Inocybe fastigiella (?) Russula albonigra
Boletus chrysenteron
Inocybe rimosoides Russula amoenolens
Boletus pulverulentus (?)


Russula crustosa
Boletus subvelutipes Amanita flavorubescens (flavorubens)


Russula cyanoxantha
Gyroporus castaneus Amanita rubescens Tubaria furfuracea Russula eccentrica (?)

Amanita vaginata var. grisea
Russula foetentula (R. subfoetens)



Russula fragrantissima

    Puffballs, True &False


Pluteus cervinus Russula mariae
    Lycoperdon coloratum Conocybe lactea

Russula ochroleucoides
    Lycoperdon sp. Conocybe sp.


Russula ochrophylla (?)
    Scleroderma bovista
Collybia luxurians Russula pectinatoides
    Scleroderma citrinum


Marasmius epiphyllus Russula pulchra (?)

Coprinus atramentarius Marasmius scorodonius Russula silvicola


Coprinus plicatilis Mycena corticola Russula variata

    Phallus rubicundus

Coprinus cf. plicatilis Mycena cf. immaculata(?)

Coprinus quadrifidus Pleurotus ostreatus

    Bird’s Nest Fungi

Panaeolina (Psathyrella) foenisecii Rickenella fibula
    Crucibulum leave Psathyrella candolleana

    Cyathus stercoreus Psathyrella sp.

The best edible mushroom found was a polypore, the chicken mushroom that grows on the ground at the base of trees: Laetiporus cincinnatus. Other good edibles included oyster mushrooms and a couple of different boletes.

A glance at the July checklist for Central Park reveals that just one genus, Russula, accounts for 25% of all the mushrooms found. The checklist also shows, by their absence, that few boletes were found. In the woods in Harriman State Park, by comparison, there can be a great many boletes as well as Russulas.

A glance at the July checklist for Central Park sorted by habitat or substrate reveals that wood chip mulch is as good an area for finding mushrooms as any in the park; even when grassy areas and open, grassy tree shaded areas dry out the wood chip areas are still holding rainwater moisture.

Selections from the July 2006 Checklist of Fleshy Mushroom sorted by Habitat/Substrate: 

Conocybe lactea
Panaeolina (Psathyrella) foenisecii

Soil (hard-packed)
Agaricus bitorquis

On the ground in grassy Oak tree “woodlands”

Ectomycorrhizal mushrooms
Amanita spp.
Inocybe spp.
Russula spp.
Marasmius scorodonius
Wood chip mulch:
Lepiota spp. (L. americana, L. cepaestipes)
Collybia luxurians
Phallus rubicundus

On wood: trees, stumps, branches, or on buried wood:
Coprinus spp.
Psathyrella candolleana
Mycena corticola
Pleurotus ostreatus
plus polypores such as Laetiporus cincinnatus


Sorted by Habitat/Substrate:

1. Grass (the place to look immediately after rain):

            Conocybe lactea appeared in grassy areas on July 6, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, and 26. Because these mushrooms collapse by noon, these are fresh populations that are springing up. By comparing these appearances with rainfall during July, we see that it rained on the 5th & 6th, and then not again until the 13th. It next rained on the 18th, 21st, and 23rd, with fresh Conocybe lactea coming up daily. The intense but very brief downpour on the 28th either failed to bring up fresh Conocybe or I missed them.

2. Bare Soil (a one mushroom substrate: Agaricus bitorquis)

            Agaricus bitorquis first appeared in a hard-packed soil rectangle that once contained a tree just outside the Central Park West park wall on May 25th. Fresh mushrooms have appeared here off and on throughout June and July, with anywhere from one to six buttons appearing at a time.       

3. On the ground in grassy Oak tree woodlands (a good place to look for mushrooms during a rainy period and for several days afterwards, depending on how hot it gets)

            Boletus campestris first appeared in a grassy area near an oak tree on June 28th. It was subsequently seen on July 5 (5 new caps), 10 (5 caps), 20, 24 (a dozen new caps), 28, and 31.             
            Amanita rubescens was first seen on June 23 in a weedy area near a large pin oak at 102nd St. It was then seen on July 7 (many, buttons and mature), 21 (many in different stages), and 29.             
            Marasmius scorodonius was first seen on June 28th in the grassy tree-shaded area between 98th and 99th Streets between the ballfields and the west drive.
It was subsequently seen here on July 3 and 5. On July 21 they were seen by the hundreds both here and along the south side of the walkway across from the Recreation Center in the middle of the park at 97th St. These mushrooms disappear from sight rapidly, but they spring back up (from a desiccated condition) with new rain. 

4. Wood chip mulch (the most reliable mushroom habitat in the park. The wood chip mulch absorbs rainwater and mushrooms keep coming up, including mushrooms we associate with trees like oaks)

            Phallus rubicundus has been the most conspicuous mushroom in Central Park during July. Not only can you smell it from more than 50 feet away (it is a stinkhorn, after all) but it is visually arresting. Tourists walking through the park down near Columbus Circle would stop to stare at what to them must have looked like a phalanx of phalluses thrusting up out of the ground. As described by several  people, it appeared to be exuding some kind of manure from its top and this was avidly attacked by flies. This is the stinkhorn that many of us, without examining it closely, were calling Mutinus elegans. Actually, both mushrooms occur in Central Park, but during July 2006, it was Phallus rubicundus, with the dark red hooded top, that has been dominant in wood chip mulch nearly everywhere. If the stinkhorns themselves are not visible on any given day, the white eggs from which these stinkhorns arise are there in clumps and clusters in the wood chip mulch awaiting the next rain to “fruit.” 

            Collybia luxurians is the surprise mushroom of the month in Central Park. Not the rarest (which may be Lycoperdon coloratum), or the most beautiful (which may be some of the red Russulas), or the most bizarre, which is the stinkhorn Phallus rubicundus, but the most surprising discovery. It can look like a Collybia dryophila or Collybia subnuda. It grows in clusters, often with large, floppy caps. It occurs in nearly every wood chip mulch area that I’ve examined. It has a reddish brown to tan cap that often curves up in age. The gills are white to off-white and attached to the stipe. The stipe appears twisted or has twisted fibrils running its length. It was first seen in Central Park on June 30th and it has continued to put up fresh fruitbodies in one wood chip mulch area or another throughout July. It can be as small as Collybia dryophila, and it can appear on the ground (perhaps on buried wood) in the grassy tree-shaded areas of the park. It is most conspicuous in the wood chip mulch areas between 96th St. and 99th just west of the Central Park Drive.

After the Bio-Blitz: AUGUST to DECEMBER

The end of July and early August saw temperatures climb above 100 degrees and the rains stop. Still, some mushrooms continued to appear. Clusters of Coprinus quadrifidus appeared here and there, the parasitic Tremella mesenterica was on a log eating its way through a patch of Stereum, and the shellac polypore (Ganoderma lucidum) showed up in the park for the first time this year nearly everywhere the first week of August. Unlike June and July, though, it wasn’t so much new mushrooms that appeared during August as “more of the same.”

Finding something new, like Bolbitius vitellinus, on the last day of August was exciting. So exciting, in fact, that had I not been keeping careful notes I would have missed two events occurring right under my nose. Conocybe lactea came up in grass that day, as it had almost daily since late June, but this would be the last time I would see it this year. Also, the Bird’s Nest Fungus (Crucibulum laeve) that had not been seen on the 29th was ubiquitous in wood chip mulch the very next day and was nowhere to be seen on September 1st! 

My brother called that same day to say that he had just seen four different mushrooms in Riverside Park, just 5 blocks or so west of Central Park. He didn’t know what they were but thought it was interesting that they were different kinds and all together. I went where he directed me and found dozens of fresh Agaricus placomyces, perhaps 100 or more fresh onion-stemmed Lepiotas (Leucocoprinus cepaestipes), about 40 beautiful, fresh Ganoderma lucidum at the base of a dead tree and the small, dark, hard polypore, Phellinus gilvus, climbing up the tree. Knowing that finding a mushroom in one place is a good bet that it can be found elsewhere nearby, I went to Central Park and, by going to places where I knew these mushrooms had occurred in the past, I found them coming up just like they were in Riverside Park. Is this just coincidence or an example of predictive success? Knowing where to look and when might seems to take some of the fun out of the hunt but it can also reduce the guesswork and that’s not necessarily such a bad thing.

September throughout the entire northeast, and, perhaps, most easily seen in Central Park, is the great annual turning point for mushrooms. Although some summer mushrooms persist through the early fall, like the boletes, many stop fruiting before the end of September. Others, like the Wine Cap (Stropharia rugosoannulata), that first come up in the spring and then disappear over the normally hot days of summer, return for a fall season. Still others, like the Sulfur Tuft (Naematoloma fasciculare) make their first appearance only after the cooling down that comes with September weather. And, then, there are those that, at least in Central Park, wait even longer and don’t start fruiting until September is all but past and the much cooler weather of October and November brings out the year’s last fresh mushrooms, like Big Laughing Gyms (Gymnopilus spectabilis) and the Deadly Galerina (Galerina autumnalis)

Every year there is usually one spectacular weekend for mushroom collecting. In 2006, throughout the eastern U.S., it seems to have been the weekend of September 9th and 10th. I heard about “everything” coming up in Maine (from Sam Ristich), and West Virginia (from Nancy Ward), and the Chicago area (from Leon Shernoff), and so it was in the New York area, and Central Park was no different, and the following two weeks in the park were as good as it gets. To cite a single example, the ringless honey mushroom (Armillaria tabescens) came up in fresh clusters on the ground almost daily throughout the park between mid-September and mid-October. Curiously, the usually more common honey mushroom (Armillaria mellea), though it appeared in other city parks and lots of places outside the city this year, I didn’t find one in Central Park. There were other mushrooms that also came up in the park, which I heard about but didn’t see, but I found so much that it didn’t matter at the time. There were more mushrooms this year than any one person could reliably observe and record.

Perhaps, though, because it didn’t rain in September after the 14th, there wasn’t much to find the last week of September. October came in colder than usual and one mushroom after another seemed to disappear for the season. A few things appeared for the first time, though, at least in my study area in the northwest quadrant of the park. Although Alice Barner had been finding hens of the woods on the east side of the park throughout most of September, I didn’t see one in my study area until mid-October, the same time I first saw the deadly Galerina (Galerina autumnalis). The cold weather didn’t keep the mushrooms on wood from continuing to appear, but the ground mushrooms, both in grass and those associated with tree roots (mycorrhizal mushrooms) were finished for the year, as were most of those in wood chip mulch.

Mushrooms in Central Park during December 2006 were much like the mushrooms that were seen at the beginning of the year. The most conspicuous fresh mushrooms were oysters. Although there was little rain in December, at least before the Solstice, the temperatures were mild. Only one day was really cold, the 8th, when it went down to 20F. Otherwise, nights were mostly frost free and days many times reached the mid-50s. Fresh oysters were seen the first week of December, then after the sharp cold snap on the 8th, oysters were coming up again on the 12th, in large clusters, enlarging through the 16th, and still present on the Solstice. The Agaricus bitorquis, which had been coming up regularly since mid-May, was last seen on December 2nd. A leaf blower may have halted its growth, if the weather didn’t. Galerina autumnalis, a regular of sorts on a rotting log in the Loch area (between the two waterfalls), was out in November but it seems to have been replaced on the log by an enormous take over by Merulius tremellosus. The Ganoderma lucidum was still fresh in mid-December and at least two trees (black oak and American ash) had large remnants of the chicken mushroom, Laetiporus sulphureus. The last week or so of December was taken over by the crust fungi (resupinates) that “painted,” as it were, many downed branches with a white to gray to pale amethyst color.

Given a list of mushrooms found on any given day or week of the year one could learn to recognize just when they were most likely to be seen. Every season has its distinctive signature, its particular diversity of mushrooms, something as recognizable and easily learned as populations of migrating birds or the flowering or fruiting dates of plants.

A continuous survey of the mushrooms of a given area can give us much more than baskets of mushrooms to cook for dinner. During the Bio-Blitz (June 23-24), for example, it was possible to see just what was coming up over a given 24-hour period. Extending the Bio-Blitz for a month gave us the chance to see what kind of pattern might be evident from just watching what appeared and disappeared on a daily basis. And, when you put in the collecting data for the whole year, larger, broader patterns appear, and these are the ones that don’t just tell us what they are and where they occur but when they first appear and finally disappear for the year. In this way, by getting to know their entrances and exits, we get to know them as actors in a grand drama, not all that unlike a play by Shakespeare performed outdoors in a big city park.


By walking through any park or wooded area on a regular basis, and observing all the mushrooms that are appearing and disappearing, you notice patterns, and you come to be able to predict what should appear, and where and when. These patterns are not obvious until you check your data, and then you say, of course, that’s obvious. Well, in Central Park, as in more natural areas in our region, the first mushrooms to appear are those on wood, like oysters and inky caps. The second are those occur in wood chips, like Agrocybes. The third mushrooms to appear are those in grass, like the dunce cap (Conocybe lactea) and leaf litter, like some Marasmius and Collybias; and the last group to appear are those on the ground and mostly associated with tree roots (mycorrhizal), like our boletes, Amanitas, Russulas, and Inocybes. In the fall, the pattern for disappearance is somewhat different. The first mushrooms to disappear are those that occur in grass and leaf litter. The second are those that occur on the ground associated with the roots of trees, our mycorrhizal mushrooms. The third group to disappear are those fungi that are found in wood chip mulch, like the stinkhorns, and the last group to disappear before the hard frosts of early winter are those that occur on wood, like the deadly Galerina, Galerina autumnalis. There is no bad time to start a mushroom survey: start yours now and see what you can discover in just one season by observing what is happening in your neck of the woods, right under your feet.


Central Park MUSHROOMS: 20 QUESTIONS after a year’s (2006) survey looking for them:

Although Central Park is a piece of landscape architecture and not a natural forest ecosystem, and there is no reason why there should be anything like the abundance or diversity of mushrooms that you would find in the “woods,” still, there are a number of questions that persist after a year of surveying the park (more than 150 walks about the area west of the Reservoir, between the southern end of the Reservoir at 86th St. and the northern end of the CP Loch at 102nd St.).

1.        Why were there so few boletes in CP, and only three showed up more than a couple of times: Boletus chrysenteron, Boletus campestris, and Gyroporus castaneus.

2.        Why were there so few amanitas? Despite seeking them out, I only saw Amanita vaginata,

A. rubescens, A. flavorubens, and A. gemmata.

3.        Why were there so many russulas and so few lactarii? Why did one Russula, R. albonigra, appear in 5 distinct locations, each near oak, but only once in each place over a one-month fruiting period? Only two lactarii were seen all year in CP whereas more than 30 are common in woodsy areas north of the city. And why no L. hygrophoroides or L. volemus, both common under oak in Bronx parks?

4.        I saw no shaggy manes or alcohol inkies despite how common they seem to be elsewhere in Manhattan. Why not?

5.        Agaricus campestris is sometimes very abundant in this area of CP, as elsewhere in the city, but none was seen this year. Why not?

6.        Lepiota naucina is a sometimes common fall mushroom of grassy areas, but only one seen in CP this year. And why no Lepiota procera?

7.         Flammulina velutipes occurs in both CP and Riverside Park, but none was seen this year. Why not?

8.        Although Armillaria tabescens was common and abundant everywhere in CP this fall, I didn’t see even one cluster of the ringed honey mushroom, Armillaria mellea. Why not?

9.        Blewits love to come up in areas where oak leaves pile up in the fall, but not in this area of CP, and not this year. Why not?

10.    Where were all the gilled mushroom decomposers, like mycenas, collybias, marasmii, clitocybes, and so on?

11.    Only one Marasmius oreades was seen all summer. Why not more when it’s the common “fairy ring mushroom”?

12.    Although the elm oyster, Hypsizygus tessulatus seems to occur every fall on elms in Riverside Park, none is reported from Central Park despite all its elms?

13.    Giant puffballs are common in the area, and C. cyathiformis is usually seen in Central Park, as is the small puffball, Lycoperdon pyriforme, and sometimes earthstars, but not this year. Why not?

14.    Although Phallus rubicundus made a spectacular show in the park this year, the only other stinkhorn seen was Phallus ravenelii. Where was the usually abundant Pseudocolus or even Mutinus elegans? Neither was seen this year.

15.    What about the polypores, like Meripilus giganteus and Bondarzewia berkeleyi, and all the small wood decomposers? Where were they? And why wasn’t Hen of the woods apparent and abundant on the west side of the park as it was reported being on the east side?

16.    Why no chanterelles or black trumpets, which occur in other parks in the city?

17.    Not even one coral was seen, not even Clavulina cristata, which is common everywhere. Why not in Central Park?

18.    Where were all the cup fungi? Some, like Bisporella citrina and Scutellinia scutellata are conspicuous by their bright colors, but none was seen in the study area all season. Why not?

19.    What allowed Agaricus bitorquis, the mushroom usually only seen in hard packed soil in playground areas in the spring, to have a season that lasted into December?

20.    Based on everything seen this year in Central Park, and what is known about the mushrooms in other parks in the city, and in forested areas outside the city, and based on what is known about mushroom fruiting patterns in Central Park from other years, what can be predicted for Central Park mushroom patterns, for appearance, abundance and diversity, for 2007?

Stay tuned....

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