Century-old juniper tree grows mushrooms

We lost one of the oldest juniper trees in our yard last month. It slowly turned brown until the whole tree was dead. When my husband finally cut it down, I counted way over 100 rings on its trunk. Just imagine what was happening when this century-old tree was growing.

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake was felt strongly right here in Fish Springs, but few people were around to feel it in those days. Perhaps some Native American Indians were out in the nearby Pinenut Mountains on that day and maybe some pioneer gold diggers too. This big old Juniper tree in our yard was probably shaking in the ground.

Other big events this 100-year-old tree witnessed during this past century included the Wright brothers flight in 1903, WWI began in 1917, television was invented in 1927, the stock market crashed in 1929, the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945, first American in space in 1961 and we landed a man on the moon in 1969. Wow. That's a lot of history.

We were surprised to find something very interesting living under that venerable old juniper tree. A large community of mushrooms was growing in the moist, decaying matter under it. Our little high-desert valley is normally pretty dry, but not this winter or spring. Fish Springs, like the rest of Douglas County, received ho-bunches of rain and snow. Mushrooms require a great deal of moisture and after a spell of wet weather, many of these fungi will spring up suddenly. Lots of mushrooms were hiding in the wet, shady area under the big tree.

I really love mushrooms and I would like to harvest them, but I don't dare. My mother knew how to identify the edible ones from the poisonous ones, but I forgot what she told me about them. The ones growing at the trunk of our old Juniper tree have honey-colored gills and white stems. There's about a dozen mushrooms growing there now and each are about the size of a saucer. Even with a book of identifying pictures, I don't think it's safe to taste even one tiny bite of any wild mushrooms. The "Honey" mushroom may be OK and the "fly amanita" looks very similar, but don't eat it, it's deadly.

About 25 years ago I ordered a box of well-fermented compost and mushroom spawn from a seed catalog. I kept the box in our dark utility room and sprayed water on the compost and soil twice a day. It wasn't long before lots of little mushrooms pushed up through the earth. The plants grew quickly and soon they looked like open umbrellas. The spores continued to reproduce for several months. Perhaps I'll get another box of the compost and spawn and grow some more delicious mushrooms right inside my home. Or maybe I'll grow them under a juniper tree. But I'll be careful.

n Linda Monohan can be reached at 782-5802.


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