When I think of mushrooms I think rain, dripping forest, moist forest floor. Sadly, that’s the opposite of what happening in drought- stricken California. Mushrooms and drought just don’t go together, right? Except, it turns out, they can. No rain doesn’t have to mean no mushrooms.
In August I found Pisolithus arhizus in patches of dry grass. And in early October I found a Phaeolus schweinitzii growing on an old Douglas fir stump. Since our last rain was several months ago, this was quite the surprise.
And it wasn’t the exception. I found a few more of these polypores growing on and near a different old Douglas fir stump. We watched one mushroom for two weeks, and waited until the perfect time to pick.
Phaeolus schweinitzii is also known as the “dyer’s polypore” perhaps because
- it’s one of the easiest dyes to extract
- when fresh it makes a brilliant yellow, with or without alum mordant, on wool or silk
- with iron mordant it makes green
- one large mushroom creates an almost inexhaustible dye bath
It’s usually found on the stumps or root systems of old Douglas fir or pine. I find them on the same stumps year after year. My Mom has a stump in her yard that has produced mushrooms for more than fifteen years.
The dye is simple:
- Pick the mushrooms while fresh – there should be some yellow around the rim.
- Break them up into small chunks, put into your pot (mine is stainless steel).
- Let the mushrooms simmer for a bit, then throw in your dye material; it works best with animal fibers such as wool or silk.
- Take it out when you reached a color you like.
- Carefully rinse until the water turns clear.
- Ta da! You’re done. That’s it.
- Actually, you’re not. You need to add more dye material because you now have an awesome dye bath that will dye a whole lot more so I hope you’re prepared.