Winter Woods Wonders

© Mike Spinak

Winter has come here to coastal California. The skies are often overcast, and frequently rainy. Everything is cool, damp, and  muddy. Most animals aren’t yet rutting, and they don’t yet have new babies. Most of the migratory birds have flown away. The colorful Autumn leaves have mostly fallen from the trees. Flowers are few and far between. Insects, too.


For many outdoor photographers and outdoor enthusiasts, these conditions mean an unwelcome lull. What to shoot? What to do?

One of the things I do, in such conditions, is go to the woods, and photograph fungi, especially “mushrooms” – fungal reproductive structures.

With a short jaunt to the local woods, it’s possible to find dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of species of fungi. They’re everywhere. And – believe it or not – they’re exciting!

Calling them “exciting” probably sounds far-fetched to some of you. People tend to think of “mushrooms”, or fungal reproductive structures, as being all pretty much the same. This could hardly be further from the truth. Some are so tiny that you need a powerful magnifying glass to see them, while others are larger than I am. Some have the classic mushroom shape; while others are many-branched, like coral; and yet others are lobed, like a brain. Some grow on the ground, others grow underground, and yet others grow in trees. Many of them have their own very specific niche, such as the teeny, tiny garlic mushrooms pictured above, which grow on tanoak leaves. Some are carnivorous, and few even “hunt”; others are “cannabalistic”, growing only on other fungi. Some are covered in a thick layer of slime, while others are dry and fuzzy. Some are gelatinous, some fleshy, and some woody. They come in every bright color of the rainbow – and bright white, shiny pure black, colorless clear, striped, and polka-dotted, too. Some smell like garlic (such as the ones in my photo, above); some smell like phenol; others smell like curry. Some taste like almonds; some taste like pumpkins; some taste like shrimp; some taste like hot peppers. Some are harmless and flavorless; some are delicious; others are hallucinogenic; and yet others are deadly poisonous. They do all kinds of strange and surprising things. Some burst when you touch them, or let out a jet or spores; others melt when you handle them; some bleed; and yet others bruise bright blue.  Some glow in the dark.

The variety is endless. And – yes – exciting!

The more you get to see them, experience them, and learn about them, the more you’ll appreciate how weird and wondrous they are. People often think of them as being kind of like plants. In reality, they are quite unlike plants, from a biological point of view. We are perhaps more similar to plants than they are.

The photographic opportunities with fungi are tremendous; and many of them are still underphotographed.

Next time these conditions leave you in the doldrums, go grab your camera and a copy of David Arora’s Mushrooms Demystified, and head to the woods for adventure.

Garlic Mushrooms (Marasmius copelandii), California

All pictures and text are © Mike Spinak, unless otherwise noted. All pictures shown are available for purchase as fine art prints, and are available for licensed stock use. Telephone: (831) 325-6917.

  • Chris Marks - Winter is actually my favorite season to hike around the Bay Area. Waterfalls are flush, temperatures are cool and pleasant but seldom truly cold. The hills are green, the forests lush and we actually have clouds in the sky (unlike the dry summer).

    Mushrooms are yet another reason to go hiking in the summer and one that I forget all too often. I’ve never been skilled at identification, but this is something I’d love to learn!ReplyCancel

  • naturography - Hi, Chris,

    I agree. I find plenty to enjoy, and plenty to photograph, in Winter. I was just describing an attitude about Winter photography that I’ve seen and heard, not necessarily one I share. And, I was focsuing the article about one specific kind of Winter splendor; there are plenty of others.ReplyCancel

  • Susan - Only you could make fungi sound “exciting”, and you did! Fantastic photo, interesting article too.ReplyCancel

  • naturography - Thanks, Susan.
    Sometime we can put on some slickers, and go roll around in the mud in the woods, so you can see how neat they are, for yourself. :) ReplyCancel

  • Susan - Sound’s like FUN!!!ReplyCancel