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.
While roughly a dozen mushrooms found in Mississippi produce chemical toxins or poisons, many mushrooms found in Mississippi are edible and can be harvested 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.
Mushrooms began experiencing a culinary renaissance in the late twentieth century, with an increasingly diverse array of forms and species available at restaurants and in grocery stores across the state. Most of these mushrooms, however, are commercially grown out of state but are sold both fresh and preserved.
- 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)