The Fungus Among Us

A group of mushrooms that sprouted in a side yard in southeast Portland. Fungi have been growing in excess all over Portland. Photo by Lani Vandehey.

Although the city of Portland boasts countless peculiarities, oddities, and overall weirdness, the best attraction to be found by far is all of the funky fungi that have been thriving this fall season. Portlanders have been noticing an excess of mushrooms popping up all throughout the city. They’re everywhere from tree trunks to people’s front yards! “I’ve lived in Portland my whole life and I’ve never seen mushrooms grow the way they have in the last couple of years,” remarks PDX inhabitant Amanda Morrison.

Not only are fungi in great abundance here in Portland, but they are extremely fascinating as well. The mushrooms that people see popping up in their yards and parks are actually only a small part of the fungus, and they are the only part that can usually be seen. Fungi are mostly made of mycelium, a web of root-like tendrils that grow beneath the surface on which the fungus is growing. One fungus can have anywhere from one to hundreds of mushrooms, all connected by the mycelium.

Damp, cool and dark habitats are the ideal places for fungi to grow. Fungi enthusiast Serenity Ibsen explains that, “You can find mushrooms in just about any forest, but certain mushrooms like to grow in specific habitats, like certain trees or fallen plant matter.” Fungi gravitate towards areas with an abundance of natural life and room for their mycelium to spread out. They also love to grow under things—nurse logs, trees, plants, and anything dark and moist. Portland’s chilly autumn climate and endless cycle of on-again, off-again downpours simulates the favorable conditions of a well-rounded forest. Between the great weather and excess of gardens and natural habitats, it is no surprise that fungi have begun to take over the city.

“I have definitely noticed a ton more mushrooms in my yard this year than before, but I’m not totally sure why,” Ibsen says. Ibsen works as the Director of Library Services at the Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA). However, mushrooms have been a long-time passion of hers. From childhood fungi infatuation to mushroom hunting, Ibsen’s interest has peaked in the last seven years. “My favorite mushrooms to find are really tiny ones. They always seem like little fairy umbrellas,” Ibsen says.

Although she does enjoy mushroom hunting, Ibsen prefers to take hikes and look at interesting fungi as she comes across them naturally. Anyone can easily take on this practice by taking walks throughout Portland. “Lots of mushrooms sprout from landscaping materials that have been inoculated with spores, like wood chips, straw, or manure,” comments Ibsen. Do you agree that fungi are the coolest of Portland’s “weird” attractions? Do you want to become an urban mushroom hunter? If so, then you’re in luck! Simply take a look around next time you step outside and be thankful that you live in one of the funkiest, fungiest cities around.

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