In The Cool Of This August, Mushrooms Thrive

August 25, 1994|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Sun Staff Writer

The happiest organism in Maryland in this unusually cool, wet August may be the lowly mushroom. Or, perhaps it's the people who stalk them.

"It's been a great year for wild mushrooms, there's no doubt about that," said Jeff Long, a member and past president of the Mycological Association of Washington, a five-state organization of people who tramp the woods and cemeteries in search of good eating.

"I had a report today that a mushroom that grows in lawns and grassy areas, called a horse mushroom, was sighted this week, and that's probably a couple of weeks early," he said. "That's attributable to the fact that August is running plus on moisture and 2 to 3 degrees cooler on average."

After a miserably hot and humid June and July, Marylanders and others in the Northeast are enjoying an especially cool August, with plenty of thunderstorms.

"That has led to most places looking at lush greenery in late August rather than sun-bleached grass," said Pennsylvania State University meteorologist Fred Gadomski.

And to mushrooms.

"We look for choice, edible mushrooms, and I enjoy the exercise and nature," said Mr. Long, a Chevy Chase real estate attorney transplanted from cool, dry, Minnesota.

"If you don't like hot, humid weather, but you want to do something with it, it's a nice hobby," he said. It also provides a delicious addition to the dinner table.

Especially abundant in the woods this month, he said, have been the smooth and golden chanterelles, which sell for $32 a pound )) in gourmet shops.

"Some people say it has a slightly spicy taste. I've had people claim there is an apricot aroma and something of an earthy and even apricot-butter flavor," he said.

Black chanterelles have also been popping up this summer, he said. It's edible despite it's French name -- the trompe de morte, or horn of death.

Don't ask Mr. Long where to find them. The mushroom hunter's '' stock answer, he said, is: "Nowhere near here."

But they grow in many Maryland counties. "I picked a pound and a half the night before last," he said.

Also plentiful this summer have been the cepe, or king bolete mushroom, "the greatest of all wild mushrooms" for its taste and texture, Mr. Long said.

The "mushroom" is actually the fruiting body of the fungus, which lives all year beneath the surface.

Dr. David F. Farr, research biologist with the federal Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, said mushrooms pop up almost overnight when the fungi sense the temperatures and moisture they need to release the spores by which they reproduce and spread.

Not all mushrooms are edible, however, or even nice to be around. The current weather has produced a crop of Mutinus caninus, or "stink horns," which bear their spores on a slimy, green mass atop a stalk.

"The slimy mass puts out an extremely foul odor," Dr. Farr said. "The odor attracts flies, and the flies walk around on it and carry off the spores."

Some mushrooms are poisonous, and experts warn that no one should eat a wild mushroom without having it identified first by an expert.

The latest batch of cool air was delivered late Sunday from Canada via the upper Midwest behind a line of thunderstorms and heavy rain.

"It's a good, large mound of air, and it is staying with us for a few jTC days," said Fred Davis, the National Weather Service's chief meteorologist at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. "When the high pulls out, we'll be back in southerly flow."

That will mean temperatures this weekend in the upper 80s and low 90s, with higher humidity. After three or four days of that, another wave of cooler Canadian air is due.

The record keepers at BWI say it's normal for temperatures to cool a bit toward the end of August. But this August has been cooler than normal, with the first 23 days averaging 1.4 degrees below average.

Recent daily highs and lows look more like mid-September, said Mr. Davis. It was 56 degrees at BWI at 6 a.m. yesterday. The airport has so far seen only three days this month with highs of 90 degrees or more. The typical August has eight.

There have been nine rainy days already in August, the month's normal quota. July had 13 rainy days, four more than normal. But rainfall amounts vary widely across the state. Annapolis has had nearly 8 1/2 inches this month, but BWI has had just 3.

The cool weather is especially welcome in the wake of a June that averaged more than three degrees above normal, and a July 4.7 degrees above normal.

There were 28 days in June and July with highs of 90 degrees or more. The normal total for the two months is just 17.

"June was a killer," Mr. Davis said. "That's when people figured, 'Gee, July and August will be killers also. . . . This is a welcome respite."

The turnabout in the summer's weather came with an eastward shift in the "Bermuda" high that dominates East Coast summers.

It was situated closer to the United States. in June and July, Mr. Gadomski said, and blocked the flow of cooler, drier air from Canada. When it moved further east, the Canadian air slipped in behind, triggering frequent thunderstorms.

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