In springtime, many Illinoisans flock to the woods to find edible mushrooms. The Annual Illinois State Morel Mushroom Hunting Championship and Spongy Fungi Festival are held in honor of mushrooms during these months, even though most edible mushrooms in Illinois grow in late summer and early fall.
Yellow, black and half-free varieties of morels can be found in wooded areas in Illinois in late March and all of April. Their sponge-like caps make them easy to spot and identify.
As the morel season dies down in Illinois in May, the golden yellow chicken mushrooms begin to crop out of infected logs or trees with a growing season lasting until Halloween or even Thanksgiving.
Puffballs mature in Illinois in late summer to mid-fall and are best when they are white with spongy interiors. Puffballs are commonly found around the outskirts of fairy rings or circles of grass in turf grass where the grass grows faster and darker green and are actually the fruit of fairy ring fungi.
Although coral, aka club, doghair or antler, fungi resemble clumps of sea coral growing to 8 inches high, most are yellow, white or tan. Occasionally, a few are purple or pink. Coral fungi appear in wooded areas of Illinois in either summer or fall on decaying logs or on the ground.
Hen of the woods, maitake, ramshead or sheepshead often weigh 20 lbs. or more per specimen and thrive in areas containing many large oak trees. Although usually found in fall, they have been found in both summer and spring. When exposed to direct sunlight in open spaces, the upper surface is brown, tan or gray (never reddish or orange) with undersides of the caps being white.
Meadow and Wild Portobello
Meadow mushrooms, champignon or “champion” as the locals call it, with their white kid-skin caps and pale pink gills can be found on golf courses and pastures in Cook County in good fall weather. Another mushroom closely resembling the meadow mushroom is a species of mushroom local hunters in southern Illinois refer to as the “wild portobello” or the brown meadow mushroom.
A delectable fungus in Illinois is the parasol mushroom, which sports a recognizable bump on top of the cap. The reddish scales on the stem and a loose collar also help identify this mushroom.
The honey mushroom, one of the stump fungi, grows at the base of deciduous trees, on old wood and stumps and sometimes on live shrubs or trees. The oval, yellow or rust-colored cap can grow to 4 inches across, can feel either sticky or dry and rests on a 6-inch stalk. The gills underneath the cap of a young honey mushroom appear white then turn yellow and eventually reddish as the fungi ages. Since the main bodies of these mushrooms spread underground for miles, they are the world’s largest organisms; some are over 400 years old.
Shaggy mane or lawyer’s wig, the largest member of the inky cap mushrooms, grows 4 to 6 inches tall with a cap (a long, white cylinder with brownish upturned scales) and white gills. Shaggy main grows during spring, summer and fall in pastures and lawns in soil, grass or wood chips.