What’s growing in your backyard?

Photo Illustration by Daniel Velasco, Aztec Press

By: DANIEL VELASCO

Rain brings the best things to Tucson on the rare occasion we receive it.

Rain brings cool weather, earthy scents and vibrant colors. The rain also creates the exact conditions perfect for growing fungus.

From yeast to athlete’s foot, fungus is everywhere and will inevitably in one way or another, eat us. With this threat heavily upon us, and finishing up monsoon season — albeit a fairly dry one — here’s a guide to some common fungi you might find at whatever cold, dark and damp place you hang out at in Arizona.

While mushrooms usually grow in forested areas that receive plenty of rain, Arizona still is home to an array of mushrooms. From Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) to Valley Fever (Coccidioides), Arizona is home to multiple different mushrooms that yield a wide array of different effects.

First and foremost, if you plan on hunting wild mushrooms, it’s important to be familiar with exactly what mushrooms are edible and what ones aren’t. While it’s important to be cautious of eating anything you might find lying on the ground, you might have a hard time finding mushrooms in the low elevation of the desert. However, higher elevation areas with greater tree cover will have a greater chance of yielding more interesting species such as Amanitas.

  • Podaxis pistillaris:  This mushroom is easy to find in low elevations, and chances are this mushroom is growing out of your backyard, local park or any local area. While most assume that this mushroom is poisonous, it has a history of medicinal use in many countries. For example, Podaxis pistillaris has been used to treat skin diseases in Yemen, wounds in Mali, sunburn in South Africa and inflammation in China. The fungus even is used by desert Aborigines in Australia to darken naturally white beards of older men. Podaxis pistillaris even has been shown to have antibacterial effects. For example, a study conducted among Aden University, Yemen and Germany concluded that Podaxis pistillaris was found to exhibit antibacterial activity against E. Coli based off MedCrave’s review of Podaxis pistillaris.
  • Coccidioides: This fungus is extremely common and infamous. Living within the soil of the Southwestern United States and parts of Mexico and South America, it’s better known for Valley Fever, the infection it gives to those who breathe in its microscopic fungal spores. Valley Fever, or coccidioidomycosis, is an infection that is known to cause symptoms such as fever, cough, chest pain, chills and even rashes. While you might have a hard time finding one growing in your backyard, if inhaled you possibly will feel its effects within one to three weeks.
  • Mycorrhizae: Blueberries and Christmas trees owe a thanks to this fungus. It’s responsible for the growth of many plants around the world due to a phenomenon known as symbiosis. Symbiosis is when two organisms interact with each other for mutual benefit.

The way Mycorrhizae works is the roots of a plant provide food for which the fungi to attach. The fungi provide protection for the roots against pathogenic disease that might harm the growth of the plant. About 90 percent of plants have a symbiotic relationship with this fungus. A study conducted by the University of Arizona found that a cluster of (Saguaro and Palo Verde tree) yielded numerous Vesicular Arbuscular Mycorrhizal fungi.

  • Fly Agaric: Commonly used by Eastern Siberian shamans, Fly Agaric is most famous for its hallucinogenic effects. The active hallucinogenic compounds within the mushroom “muscimol” and “Ibotenic acid” affects the brains GABA transmitter system that’s responsible for the brain’s inhibitions. Because of this, symptoms include increased body temperature, sweating, pupil dilation, muscle jerks, euphoria and of course, hallucinations. Fly Agaric commonly grows in higher elevations near birch, pine and spruce trees. Making it rare in Arizona, often sparking a huge debate online. However, one hunter reported finding multiple Fly Agaric in the White Mountains between Show Low and Springerville.

Because the monsoon season has ended, it’s likely we won’t see rain any time soon.

However, on the few days we do see rain in Tucson, it might be worthwhile to look out for these “fun guys.”

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