Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
March, 2006
Regional Report

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The fly agaric mushroom grows wild under pines and along roadsides.


I have never grown them on purpose, but I find mushrooms fascinating. Mushrooms come in all shapes, colors, and sizes, and it has become quite the fad to grow them, either for consumption or as ornamentals.

The reason I decided to write a column about something that I know so little about is because I saw an amazing mushroom as I was driving into my office last week. It was growing beside the road under a large pine tree. Its brilliant red cap was what caught my eye. Luckily, I had my camera with me, so I stopped and took a photo. When I got back to my office I did a little research and found that it was a fly agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria), which has religious and cultural uses.

Amanita muscaria mushrooms have been sought after by ancient Greeks, American Indians, and Japanese and Siberian cultures for its psychedelic and hallucinatory (gosh, I haven't used those words since the '60s) properties. This dangerous beauty is the very same mushroom that was illustrated in Lewis Carols' Alice in Wonderland as a seat for the hooka-smoking caterpillar. Another fact I found particularly interesting is that when the fly agaric mushroom is mixed with milk, it will kill houseflies. Who comes up with these things?

There are mushroom clubs and organizations all over the Bay Area. I presume they will have a few booths at the upcoming San Francisco Flower and Garden Show. In previous years, their mushroom displays were truly amazing. I remember one that was set up to look like a creek bank, with fallen logs and ferns. The mushrooms growing within were elegant, unusual, and most likely, deadly.

The strangest mushroom-like thing I ever saw was growing in one of the patios at Sunset Magazine. I noticed a shiny yellow glob of what looked like pudding in one of the flowerbeds. The following day it had doubled in size, and the day after that it was about 3 feet across and 8 inches high. After doing some research, we found it to be a form of slime mold (Myxomycota). After it reached its maximum height in about five days, it collapsed and turned brown.

The world of mushrooms is fascinating and (to me) just a little on the dark side. You can grow your own mushrooms by purchasing a gourmet mushroom-growing kit over the Internet, or you can make your own blocks of growing medium (sounds messy and time-consuming). I'm content to appreciate the wild ones. Alas, when I drove past again, that beautiful, red fly agaric mushroom was gone.

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