This weekend the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz sponsored the 37th annual Fungus Fair.  We missed the Fair last year, not realizing there actually was one in Santa Cruz.  However, we were determined to attend this year!


Poster for the 37th Annual Santa Cruz Fungus Fair

We didn’t really start to appreciate the extraordinary variety of fungus that grows on the property during the winter months until last year when we started our Mushroom Monday posts.  One of the greatest challenges though is trying to identify each species we encounter.  We hoped the Fungus Fair might at least help us to familiarize ourselves with some of the more common species here.


I'd been driving by this fungus for more than a week, but had no idea what it was

On the way to the fair, as I had my camera in hand, I made Mr. Curbstone stop along the road near an enormous fungus that I’d been watching as I drove by the past week or so.  It’s not in the most convenient place to pull over, but there wasn’t much traffic, so we stopped just long enough to take a few photos.


I could see it was a gilled species, and hoped a few photographs would help to reveal its identity at the fair

This huge fungus was growing on an old decaying stump.  The stump was approximately 18 inches in diameter, and the fungus was larger than almost any other that I’ve seen.  I had no idea what it was, but figured the Fungus Fair might be the place to find out.

When we arrived at the Fair we were amazed at the crowds.  We had no idea there were so many local fungophiles!

The main exhibit hall had numerous baskets filled with various fungi from many genera, each labeled with their description, growth habits, and edibility.


The main hall was filled with baskets of labeled fungus species

We were in mycological heaven!


Each species was labeled with it's edibility, if known


Honey Mushrooms (Armillaria mellea)


Honey mushrooms are edible, but they're not the only brown clumping fungi in this part of California

Perhaps the most recognizable species, I personally have yet to see a fly agaric in person, but there were numerous examples of reasonably fresh specimens to be seen at the Fair.


Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)

There were some other species of fungus we recognized too, as we’ve seen them growing here, like some of the Ramaria species, and the Elfin Saddle mushrooms.


Coral Fungus (Ramaria sp.)



Elfin Saddle Mushroom (Helvella maculata)

As we turned around the corner of one exhibit, there it was!  An example of the fungus I’d just photographed along the roadside!


Jack-O-Lantern Mushroom (Omphalotus olivascens)

It turned out to be the common Jack-O-Lantern fungus (Omphalotus olivascens).  I chatted with some of the fungus experts on hand, who were impressed that the specimen I’d photographed was so large, and yet undisturbed in public view.  Probably a good thing nobody has messed with it…it’s poisonous!


As evidenced by the skull and crossbones, the Jack-O-Lantern mushroom is poisonous!

Despite its toxicity, it turns out that the fruiting bodies of this species are bio-luminescent!  They glow in the dark!  I’m sorry I didn’t take a sample now, but next time I find one of these, I’ll have to see them glow in the dark for myself.

Throughout the fair was this eye-catching poster, an excellent reminder to leave the mushroom hunting to the experts…


Sage advice from the North American Mycological Association!

In other words…don’t eat the Death Caps!  As beautiful as these mushrooms are, they are the number one cause of fatal mushroom poisonings worldwide…



Death Cap (Amanita phalloides)

There were experts on hand to help identify mystery mushrooms, and I wish we’d known, as there are a few mysteries growing here at the moment.  However, to help improve our own fungus identification skills we became members of the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz at the fair.  As members we can participate in local organized fungus forays, attend the monthly meetings, and learn from others more well versed in the world of fungus identification than ourselves.


We've seen Lactarius deliciosus growing here, but until now, its identity was a mystery

In addition to all the fresh fungi, there were lectures, and cooking demonstrations from local chefs.  Numerous vendors were also on hand selling everything from mushroom identification books and magazines, to grow-your-own culinary mushroom kits, and coffee mugs with lids resembling your favorite fungus of choice.


Beautiful mushroom mugs crafted by local artist Jeannine Calcagno Niehaus

We picked up this special issue of Fungi Magazine, all about Morels!

If you didn’t make it to the Fair this year, this video filmed by Ken Goldstein last year gives you a good idea of what you missed!

If like us, you’re fascinated with fungi, but want to learn more about the species growing in your area, contact your local mycological society, group, or club.


Pine Cone Amanita (Amanita magniverrucata)

For a list of societies in the United States, see here.  Many offer classes in edible mushroom identification, and organize mushroom hunting trips in your region. You can also enquire as to whether your local mushroom hunting group puts on a fair similar to the one here this last weekend.  While the gardens are quiet in winter, it’s a fabulous way to have fun with fungus instead!


For more information about Bay Area Mushrooms see:

North American Mycological Association
Bay Area Mycological Society
Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz
Mycological Society of San Francisco
Sonoma County Mycological Association