What you don't know can kill you, say local mycophiles -- but they'll be glad to help you learn

Please -- don't eat the death caps. That's the gist of what mycophile Shannon Stevens tells newbies before they traipse into the woods in search of mushrooms.

"The very first thing I talk about is about eating mushrooms and going into the responsibility for that," says Stevens. "I basically scare them to death. You do get those stories every now and then: 'Hiker Dies From Eating Mushroom,' so it's the first thing I tell them. I say, 'You don't ever, ever want to ingest anything that you are not 110 percent positive that you know what it is.'"

It turns out that eating the fungus can be as dangerous as eating the fugu. Whereas some mushroom heads dream of finding truffles in Forest Park, many are content to pluck whatever they find for the simple joy of identification. On a typical "foray," as mushroom hunts are known, hunters bring their finds to a picnic table at the end of the day, they whip out their field guides and a group leader such as Stevens will say, "OK -- find that mushroom," he explains.

The last time Stevens led a group through Rockwoods Reservation, they discovered twelve to fifteen different species of fungus, including "big standard parasol mushrooms and shelf fungus, which are those crusty things that grow on the bark of the trees, and puffballs and oyster mushrooms," he says. And there are always plenty of hard-to-identify LBMs, or "little brown mushrooms," he says.

Stevens, a member of the active Missouri Mycological Society, says that many of the mushrooms to be found at Rockwoods are white (puffballs) or brown (shelf fungus) but that the group may get lucky and find red 'shrooms or even the coveted orange-yellow "chicken of the woods."

What kind of mushroom is that? "Hey," says the fungus fan, "it tastes just like chicken, man."

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