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Some Tentative Explorations into the Genus Boletus

August 17th, 2016

Last year around this time I poisoned myself, rather severely but not life-threateningly, with a mushroom by the name of Boletus sensibilis. A surprising amount of hilarity ensued. People love to hear that story; I will never live it down, and I can’t say I feel bad about that. It’s a story I enjoy telling, a cautionary tale, and something not a lot of people have or hopefully will experience.

However, it has had the inevitable side-effect of making people doubt my mushroom hunting erudition and caution. Believe me, both have improved dramatically as a direct result of poisoning myself. But I expect I’ll spend the rest of my life combating that judgment. And that’s fine, well and good. Don’t eat wild mushrooms unless you know what the fuck you’re doing.

To that effect, this summer I have undertaken a hands-off study of genus Boletus, a rather large class of mushrooms that distribute spores through a porous membrane rather than laterally separated gills. I don’t expect to be eating much in this genus ever again; among the people whose faith in my skills at positive taxonomic identification I have permanently shattered is my wife, who forbids me from eating any mushrooms I haven’t previously eaten without poisoning myself. I can still look. I can touch and smell. I can learn.

First, the easy ones.


Strobilomyces strobilaceus, the old man of the woods mushroom. Found on the North Country Trail, Newaygo County, MI. A hard mushroom to mistake, and yet I learn it has three subspecies distinguishable only through microscopic identification of spores. All three, as I understand it, are edible only when very young, otherwise rather unappetizing.



Boletus edulis, aka porcini, like you’d find in the grocery store, this one again found on the NCT in West Michigan. A rather aged specimen, though lovely, as you can tell by the bug-eaten decay in the cross-section. I am surprised to learn that there are not actually very many species of buff to tan, white-pored boletes, mycorrizal with mixed deciduous and evergreen woods, fruiting in late summer in the American northeast. And all of them appear to be choice edibles. Not that I would know.

Now on to the scary, confusing, variously blue-staining, variously poisonous red and yellow boletes, at which my gorge rises Lovecraftian despite their beauty.




Baorangia (formerly Boletus) bicolor? var. borealis? This is (perhaps) the mushroom I thought (hoped) I was eating when I poisoned myself. Found a mile from my house in Bald Mountain Recreational Area, Oakland, MI. Beautiful soft creamy flesh, smells wonderfully of something very much like Indian yellow curry, tastes…well, I’ll never know. But delicious, they tell me.



Boletus sensibilis, aka the Brick-Red Bolete? The one that poisoned me. Maybe. Or maybe it’s another variation of bicolor. Beautiful thing, isn’t it?



Boletus flammans? or etc. Note red pore surface and blue coloration in pore cross-section, which came on almost as soon as I sliced into it. Here we have the trouble. There are just too many of them, with too much commonality of season and habitat, too much commonality of color and form factor, too much variety of color and form factor depending on age and habitat.

For example:




Boletus subvelutipes, the red-mouth bolete. Or not. Just look at that monster’s deadly, blue-stained jaws.  I feel like a mouse hypnotized by a snake. How could I not be fascinated? After an experience like that, how could I not want to learn more?

Now I’m going to go donate some money to Michael Kuo, whose website is dauntingly detailed about all this and makes very clear what a vast and complex discipline is mushroom identification, and at which I have probably spent more time this month than facebook.

In conclusion: I need a microscope.

Also, here’s that caveat again:

Don’t eat any mushrooms you find in the woods unless you really, seriously know what you’re doing or have someone with you who does. Don’t come crying to me if you do and it doesn’t work out. If you do, and it doesn’t work out, and you find yourself violently expelling the entire contents of your digestive system, go to the hospital. You’ll live, and if nothing else you’ll have a very interesting story.

   Fungi, Summer | 1 Comment »

Ring Cairn

June 21st, 2013

Votadini ring cairn, circa 300, Caerketton Hill, Edinburgh, Scotland

“Votadini” was the name Roman occupiers used to refer to those Iron Age hill tribes, nearly lost to history, whose descendants were celebrated in the ancient Welsh war-poem Y Gododdin:.

Men went to Catraeth at dawn:
All their fears had been put to flight.

Happy solstice.

   Altars, Stones, Summer | No Comments »

Sleeping Bear

May 29th, 2013

Sleeping Bear Dunes

I spent the weekend at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and have returned with the resurgent impression that it would be more fulfilling and about a million times more effective if I laid off writing fiction and computer code and became an angry environmentalist full time. At this moment I literally would rather sit around watching my garden grow than struggle with some story that progresses at an equally glacial pace towards far less bountiful fruition. Nothing I make will be as beautiful as that which no hand hath made. Were all I’ve made to disappear, who would care?

This is not meant to be bleak or mopy. On the contrary. Thank God there is still something other than the internet.

   Angry, Environmentalism, Mountains, Summer, Transcendentalism | No Comments »

Country Mouse in the City

August 23rd, 2010

I have moved from the pasture to the townhouse, where the food is more abundant and delicious, the company more worldly, but ruder, and the cat more bold. I have returned like Prospero to Venice, like Orsino from Arcadia. I’ve left the greenwoods of Barnesdale for the cobbles of Nottingham, like Robin going to the party in disguise.

This is NC Wyeth’s classic endpaper illustration for the Paul Creswick Robin Hood of 1903, which is available in its entirety (except of course for shiny dustcover, lovely old-glue smell, cloth binding and old timey faux-cut pages) at Sacred Texts of all places–folklore passing into myth, myth into religion?

This is Boston from Peter’s Hill, at the south end of the Arboretum. In the middleground is the conifers section, I think: larches from Europe, Douglas firs, even a couple of dawn redwoods from China, mixed in with our local hemlocks and pines.

The availability of green space, to my surprise, is not all that much diminished. Instead of Mt. Sugarloaf, I’ve got the Arboretum. The Blue Hills replace the Holyoke Range. Instead of Mt. Toby, the Emerald Necklace. Of course, it’s all rather more well-traveled than I’m used to, and the forage isn’t nearly as good, what with all the groundwater being contaminated with oily city ick. But I’ll manage, I think.

I don’t get nearly as many weird looks as I’d have expected for walking around town with a big stick. No more than I did in the Valley, anyhow.

   Art, Environmentalism, Summer, Trees | 5 Comments »

Maize God’s Travels

August 21st, 2010

Maize God, like Count Dracula, can travel the world only with his feet planted firmly in a fragment of his native soil.

This is about half of what I potted and brought to live on my new front porch: basil, rosemary, sage, wormwood, lemon balm, lavender, and one habañero pepper.

   Religion, Summer, Visions | No Comments »


July 12th, 2010

Dolichonyx oryzivorus, summer plumage. Upland meadow, Graves Farm Sanctuary, Haydenville, MA

   Birds, Summer | No Comments »

Orange Mycena

June 28th, 2010

Mycena leaiana
On a rotten hemlock log across a brook, Mt. Toby Reservation.

The new camera, for those who care, is this, not a digital SLR but a budget 12 MP Kodak point and shoot the first thing I did on which was reset the resolution to 10 MP. It has a big long zoom that, without stabilization, shockingly works not all that well, and a wide angle that lets me be 3 inches from the mushroom, which is old hat to most people but is new and wonderful to me. I’m still learning the semi-klunky interface, but it takes a nice picture when I let it.

   Fungi, Summer, Technomancy | No Comments »

Maize God Is Dead; Long Live Maize God

June 20th, 2010

Time erodes all things, and new things, harder things, spring forth from their remains.

Old Maize God was made of orange-painted plaster. I bought him for a dollar from a wandering huckster kid at the Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá and couldn’t work up the guts to toss him in the sacred cenoté. For three years, he guarded my garden from the likes of hungry wabbits, storm-felled trees and marauding bands of centaurs. But the winter of 2010 wormed its way through his plaster flesh, and he crumbled.

Young Maize God is carved from green-black jadeite, heavy and resilient as iron. I found him among the mazelike convolutions of market day in Chichicastenango, in the Guatemalan highlands. He’s done his best to take up the mantle of the old god—but come August, he and I must bid farewell to our much-loved little communal plot in the valley and travel east, back to the city, where fecundity will be restricted to a forest of pots on the back balcony.

Who knows what other change may come? Not I. Not he.

Happy solstice.

   Altars, Guatemala, News, Religion, Summer, Visions | 5 Comments »

Hemlock Varnish Mushroom

June 28th, 2009

Ganoderma tsugae
Mt. Toby Reservation, Sunderland, MA

These are smooth and soft to the touch, firm like a piece of cork. They grow pretty exclusively on hemlock—living wood or rotten. They’re inedible, but are ascribed medicinal properties when taken in the form of a tea or extract. Have not tried that yet.

I also read of one guy who puts it in his homebrew. Haven’t tried that either.

Before they get bigger, they look like this. This is from the other side of Mt. Toby back in May.

   Fungi, Summer, Visions | No Comments »

Tree Fist, with Padlock

June 21st, 2009

Hale Reservation, Westwood, MA

What would happen if you opened it? And who has the key?

Happy Solstice.

   Summer, Trees, Visions | 4 Comments »

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