Mushrooms are familiar to most people, but to get really acquainted with them you have to go out to the woods and meadows to see the diversity of types in your area. This buttery collybia (Rhodocollybia butyracea) was growing next to a rotting log, and indeed the decomposition of plant material is one of the important roles that the fungus that made this mushroom plays in the environment.
While some fungi aid in the recycling of material, others, such as this fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) play a vital role in plant survival by facilitating the transfer of nutrients into roots. The fly agaric is a well known species of fungus, predominantly red in other parts of the world in Canada it is more likely to be yellow or a reddish orange. The toxins and alkaloids it produces, including muscarine and muscimol are probably why this mushroom was popular with shamans in the past.
While many mushrooms you encounter are white or various shades of beige, many are vibrantly colored, like these orange mycena (Mycena leaiana). Mushrooms are the spore-producing fruiting bodies of fungi so it is curious as to why there is so much variation in color (some even glow in the dark).
Not all mushrooms have gills, this newly emerged larch bolete (Suillus grevillei) belongs to a group of mushrooms called the boletes which have pores under their caps from which the spores are released.
Mushrooms, especially the white and beige varieties are very difficult to identify, even for specialists. While these look similar to the orange mycena above they are, however, chanterelle waxcaps (Hygrocybe cantharellus). The decurrent gills, gills that attach down the stalk and not up under the cap, is the obvious difference here. The difficulty in identifying mushrooms only serves to stress how important it is to be cautious when eating mushrooms as the consequences can be life threatening. I just admire and photograph them!
Mushrooms can occur singly, in clusters, rings or in large groups. These parasol mushrooms, Macrolepiota procera, are part of a huge ring of mushrooms I came across in the woods.
One of the things I like about mushrooms is the variety. They come in different shapes, colors and textures. This cluster of shaggy scalycap mushrooms (Pholiota squarrosa) is exactly that rough and scaly.
On the other hand this handsome mushroom is almost velvety in texture, which is fitting as it is growing among a soft bed of mosses.
When wet many mushrooms take on a slimy texture, like this fragile brittlegill (Russula fragilis).
As I mentioned before I love photographing mushrooms. They are also great subjects for practicing your compositional skills. Here I found a pair of plums and custard mushrooms (Tricholomopsis rutilans) growing in Jasper National Park. Their position high on a moss-covered log allowed me to view up under the caps to capture an image highlighting the yellow gills and red stalk and caps. The rich growth of moss suggests that this is an organically rich microenvironment.
To photograph mushrooms a tripod is a must. Exposure times are often long especially in forested areas and I will use either a remote shutter release or the self-timer to initiate the exposure. Tripods are also great as they slow down your image taking process so you are less likely to take "snapshots". Be warned though people walking by will wonder what you are doing face-down in the dirt.
Mushroom photography often takes me into an overlooked, secret landscape that few visit but which is important to us all!

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