Anyone who travels through Mississippi, from coastal Ocean Springs to the extreme northern city of Olive Branch, from the Mississippi River on the west to the Alabama border to the east, can find mushrooms or similar fungi. At some point in the year, mushrooms—both poisonous and nonpoisonous—are present in each county.
Fungi occupy their own exclusive niche in the biological system of classification of living organisms. They are a separate kingdom, similar to the plant and animal kingdoms. Like plants, fungi produce spores, and at one time fungi were classified as plants. Mushrooms, however, lack chlorophyll and also have no true roots, stems, leaves, flowers, or seeds, features that eventually led to their classification as their own kingdom. Unlike most plants, which have chlorophyll and can manufacture their own food, mushrooms cannot live independently and must absorb food from the surrounding medium—usually rotting wood, soil, leaf mold, or similar substrates. The ubiquitous nature of the Fungi (the mushroom group name) is equaled somewhat by the bacteria and other microorganisms.
Many mushrooms have received monikers motivated by the finders’ first impressions—Devil’s Snuffbox, Hen-of-the-Woods, Wolf’s Milk Slime, Death Angel, Giant Stinkhorn, all of which exist in Mississippi. Some mushrooms found in the southern part of the state may not grow in the north and vice versa, but common varieties such as Boletes, Russulas, Amanitas, Agaricus, Lactarius, and Armillaria, exist in both areas and most points in between.
Mushrooms have recently experienced a culinary renaissance, with an increasingly diverse array of forms and species available at restaurants and in grocery stores. Most of these mushrooms are commercially grown for the market and are sold both fresh and preserved.
Many Mississippi localities have edible fungi that can be found at or near the same sites year after year. One popular but not abundant mushroom, the morel, can be used in almost any culinary undertaking. Orange-yellow chanterelles often abound in patches. Some members of the genus Boletus are most desirable, as are some Agaricus, Lactarius, and Russula.
Roughly a dozen mushrooms found in Mississippi produce chemical toxins or poisons. One of the more deadly of these is the genus Amanita. Ironically, most members of this genus are very attractive. The Destroying Angel, Amanita caesarea (Caesar’s mushroom), is a brilliant orange, yellow, and red, and its caps are speckled with scales or tissue flakes.
- C. J. Alexopoulos, C. W. Mims, and M. Blackwell, Introductory Mycology (1996)
- David Arora, Mushrooms Demystified (1986)
- Will H. Blackwell, Poisonous and Medicinal Plants (1990)
- George H. Dukes Jr., Mushrooms of Mississippi and Other Fungi and Protists (2000)