As a little old woman approached me, arms filled with groceries, I looked up and smiled. “Cute little mushrooms, eh?” I asked, gesturing at the parasols.
It was a typically sunny day in Orange County and I was on the lawn of the local Catholic church. The courtyard is dotted with trees that were planted in various people’s honor up to 200 years ago. Those ancient trees have ancient roots, making this area a hotspot for mushrooms. I had seen dozens there during the summer, brown and white parasols crowding around the base of the cross and red stinkhorns nestled between bouquets of flowers at Mary’s feet. Already I had dozens of pictures memorializing different flushes of mushrooms, their delicate gills and lithe stipes rising above the grass, brown caps cracking to reveal white underneath like grout under a mosaic. I had stopped this morning to capture the view of a handsome young button, cap still closed, which hovered on its too-tall stalk like a perfect speckled egg floating above the lawn. But the woman grimaced.
“Are they edible or dangerous?” she asked, with the tone one might use to ask if an ugly dog is housebroken or not.
I kept smiling and replied, “Neither. They’re just here.” I’m used to especially strong mycophobia in urban areas, where most people don’t see leaf litter decompose and trees rarely have empty space around them where fungi can fruit. It’s possible that this woman had never noticed mushrooms outside the supermarket before.
It was pretty clear that she wasn’t impressed.
As I positioned my camera to take another photo, she huffed, “They shouldn’t be here. Children could eat them.” Then she continued home with her groceries, her stride barely broken.
I watched her continue along the churchyard, walking past a mixed-grass lawn, a cluster of rosebushes, dozens of flowers, three types of hedge, five species of ornamental succulents, and two trees laden with with unfamiliar berries.
There she left me, surrounded by organisms neither edible nor dangerous. Perhaps on another day she will join us.
Plants in the churchyard*
- A mixture of bluegrass (Poa pratensis, rye (Lolium sp.), and fescue (Festuca sp.)**
- Little John Bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus ‘Little John’)
- Gold Mound Lantana (Lantana camara)
- Boxleaf Euonymus (Euonymus japonica)
Decorative plants, nonflowering
- Boxwood (Buxaceae sp.)
- Sedge (Carex oshimensis)
- Red and white cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum)
- White rose bushes (Rosa sp.)
- Irish Rose (Aeonium arboretum)
- Blue Fingers (Senecio serpens)
- Aloe (Aloe sp.)
- Blue Glow Agave (Agave ‘Blue Glow’)
- Miniature Pine Tree (Crassula tetragona)
* I took pictures of all the species in the yard and looked through catalogs to find matches (or asked my mom. Thanks, Mom!). Sometimes I couldn’t narrow down to a species, in which case I’ve followed the scientific convention and used the genus name plus the abbreviation “sp.”.
** My guess is based on the following article, given the level of foot traffic and shade in the churchyard:
The Scotts Company LLC (2002-2019). Identify Your Grass. Scotts.com. https://www.scotts.com/en-us/library/grass-grass-seed/identify-your-grass (Accessed 9 Dec 2019).