Mushroom Hunting: Golf Balls and Boletes

By Tom Nauman

Every now and then I get the chance to prove to myself why I like mushroom hunting more than I like golf. It's because finding mushrooms is much easier than finding golf balls. It seems as though all the golf balls I buy have a natural attraction to the woods. I've tried all major brands but they are all the same. If the woods are on the left, I hook. If the woods are on the right, I slice. And once when there were woods on both sides of the fairway the slice won out. It looked as though the ball was going deep when I heard the familiar crack of the projectile hitting a tree trunk. I saw the ball come bouncing back onto the fairway and I thought I had gotten lucky. But the ball actually bounced across the fairway only to go into the woods on the opposite side never to be seen again.

Another curiosity is that the golf balls always end up in the thickest briars around and you need a brush cutter to retrieve them. Mushrooms on the other hand are everywhere and all you need to find them is ambition. As you may have guessed by now I'm no Tiger Woods. A better nickname would be "Inda" Woods.

It was on one of these golf ball finding excursions recently that I actually found some bolete mushrooms. The bolete is fairly common and several members of the family are edible and choice. In some circles it is called the sponge mushroom because its underside resembles a bath sponge. Here's that problem with regional names again, the morel is also called the sponge mushroom because it resembles a scrap of sea sponge.

The bolete is a "toadstool" in that it has a flat to convex cap on top of a stem. The cap is divided horizontally into two sections. The upper layer is considered the "meat" while the lower layer has hundreds of pores (rather than gills) which are the mouths of tubes that run the height of the layer and produce the spores. The stem is often bulbous (it is wider in diameter in the middle of the stem than at the top or bottom). There can be patterns on the stem which can help distinguish one member of the bolete family from another.

There are hundreds of members in the bolete family. Most are edible but a few will do you in. Be sure to check at least two field guides before consuming any mushroom. The most popular of the edible variety is the King Bolete (boletus edulis). We found about two dozen boletes near our house last week. However, we couldn't positively identify them. I think they were the King Bolete but a few characteristics didn't jive with my field guides so we didn't eat them. I'll have to consult a bolete expert and be ready for their arrival next year.

The boletes I found at the golf course had an interesting characteristic. When I sliced one in half it was at first white but almost immediately turned a cornflower blue. There is a Cornflower Bolete (gyroporus castaneus). It is so named because it has this trait. But the mushrooms I found didn't have any other similarities.

I've got some extra copies of a mushroom hunting license (a spoof - otherwise known as Tomfoolery). If you'd like a couple they're free if you send me a self-addressed stamped envelope.

Please feel free to contact us with questions or comments. Especially if you have ideas or suggestions for future columns: Tom and Vicky Nauman, Morel Mania, RR1 - Box 42, Magnolia, IL 61336, Phone 309-364-3319, Fax 309-364-2960.