Phaeolus, My Old Friend

Dyer's polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii), Rogue River National Forest, Oregon
Photo by Martin Beebee Photography

Phaeolus schweinitzii, the “dyer’s polypore,” creates a gorgeous range of yellow dyes – from brilliant butter to golden amber. It was the first mushroom to ignite my interest in dyeing with mushrooms for several reasons: the color of dye, the ease of extracting the dye, the amount of dye packed within one small fungus, and perhaps most importantly, it’s also one of the easiest to find (see picture above!). For many years, a massive Phaeolus conveniently reemerged on a fir stump next to our house.

Honestly, Phaeolus made me lazy. I didn’t have to hunt for them – they found me. Whether I was walking or driving- their bright yellow edges caught my eye, as if to wave me down, and remind me it was Autumn. They announced that mushroom-dye season had officially begun.

This year it was the Pisolithus arhizus that popped up first and the cause of many excited phone calls to my Mom (I found four in one week!). I thought if the Pisolithus were this abundant – a mushroom I never find – then Phaeolus would be waving me down before I knew it.

But I wrong. All my usual, easy to access stumps were empty. This year, the dyers polypore was playing hard-to-get.

I’m lucky to have a father-in-law who owns many acres of mixed oak and fir forest, plus a seventeen year old nephew who was eager to help me on our hike. This was his first mushroom hunt; I instructed him what to look for and where to look. He hopped ahead of me through the trees, scouting old stumps, yelling to me if he found any type of mushroom.

After hiking steep terrain for over an hour, wondering where the heck all the mushrooms went, I found one little polypore.

Phaeolus schweinitzii

I squealed with delight, scoured the rest of the stump and exposed roots for another. Several stumps were covered in shriveled, old mushrooms, teasing me that if I tried a little harder last year, I would have been overflowing with skeins of yellow yarn this year.

I brought the small polypore to my Mom and questioned her why our faithful friend wasn’t around this season. She’s the expert, she always has the answers! But she was just as stumped as me.

We broke apart what we had, and produced two lovely skeins of golden yellow yarn. We’re hearing stories that the Phaeolous are now finally popping up, a few months later than expected. I have plans to return to the forest next weekend (once the rain stops) and try my luck again. I’ve learned my lesson. No stump will go undiscovered in my quest to find my favorite polypore.

2 thoughts on “Phaeolus, My Old Friend

  1. I’m so glad you posted photos of something that is available in our state. I really enjoyed the dyeing class last year at SOMA camp but haven’t been able to do any forays. Yellow and gold hues are my favorites!

    1. Yellows and golds are my favorites, too. (I’m wearing a scarf dyed with Phaeolus right now.) I also miss the forays, but I will be assisting my Mom’s dye workshop at SOMA camp this year. Perhaps I’ll see you there!

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