by Michele Wales, Coverdale Farm Preserve Manager

For 15 years Coverdale has raised livestock in our pastures & barns and grown acres of vegetables in our teaching gardens & CSA. Now we are reaching beyond the farm borders to the woodland to grow…..mushrooms!

Specifically, the delicious Pleurotus ostreatus. Pleurotus (“sideways”) ostreatus (“oyster”) come by their name honestly as the fruiting body grows in a sideways manner from the stem and forms a shell-like cap. These common wild mushrooms can be found growing in forests throughout the world in temperate to semi tropical climates.

Oyster mushrooms are in a class of fungi known as “saprophytes.” Saprophytic fungi (shiitake, oysters, lion’s mane, wine caps) are decomposers that scavenge dead organic matter for their nourishment. In the case of oysters this material is wood. But not just any wood will do, the oyster mushroom thrives in hardwoods like Tulip Poplar and Beech.

Tulip Poplar trees are a fast growing, native, “pioneer” species that can reach the perfect size for growing oyster mushrooms within 5 years, easily. At Coverdale we have a sustainable population to harvest, making oyster mushroom the ecologically sound choice.


Photo by Shaun Quinlan

Back in March, Shaun Quinlan and I “planted” 38 totems of oyster mushrooms in the woodland above the Coverdale Farm Preserve pond. The substrate, or wood, must be harvested prior to budding out making March prime-time mushroom planting season! The mycelium, the vegetative part of fungus, was delivered to us in blocks of saw dust where it had colonized. We selected a location deep within the woods that would provide good shade come summer and set wooden pallets down to raise our totems off the ground.


Photo by Michele Wales

Then, down to business matching two like-sized sections of 1’ tall rounds of the poplar tree to form totems.


Photo by Shaun Quinlan

Once the matching game was completed, we sandwiched a thick layer of sawdust spawn between the two rounds of poplar. The top of the totem had a small “cookie” cut from it to afford one more layer of mycelium.


Photo by Shaun Quinlan

Once all totems were planted, we covered each stack with a paper lawn bag. This will ensure the moisture level of the wood to remain high, protect the totem from competitive fungi, and ensure darkness during the incubation period known as the “spawn run.” This very important time, which can last 12 – 18 months for oyster mushrooms is the critical stretch when the mycelium begins to colonize the poplar. We will check on these totems periodically throughout the next 6 – 12 months to make certain we are maintaining the proper growing conditions for this experimental new crop.

oyster planting 17 2015

Photo by Shaun Quinlan

Stay tuned for the next installment in the wood-grown mushroom trials. We highlight the bio-control we are preparing for and will be employing to combat public enemy #1 of the mushroom, the mighty slug. Any guesses?

Come visit us and join in the farm fun each and every Saturday from 9:00am – 4:00pm. Meet our awesome staff, tour the CSA fields, visit the farmyard to see our resident livestock, stop in our welcome barn to shop for farm grown vegetable plants, a dozen fresh Eggmobile eggs and pick up the new Coverdale Farm Preserve canvas grocery bag to carry your goods home. Fresh vegetables will be coming soon to the welcome barn!

By Jason Beale, Abbott’s Mill Nature Center Manager

Towering American Chestnuts (Castanea dentata) defined much of the eastern forest from the colonial period until the early 1900’s.  Valued by humans and wildlife alike for its bountiful nuts, the tree was also used for lumber and leather tanning.

Stump-sprouting American Chestnuts, like this one at Abbott’s Mill, are typical of most remaining trees, which once constituted more than 25% of the eastern forest. This specimen may be over a hundred years old as it continually battles blight.  Photo by Jason Beale.

The eastern forest was forever changed when an Asian fungus, tolerated by Chinese and Japanese Chestnuts, began its uncontrollable spread in 1904.  By the 1930’s, the American Chestnut was rendered ecologically extinct, with trees  killed outright or condemned to decades of attempted regrowth.  It’s shrubby native cousin, the Chinquapin, also suffered from the blight.  The impact on wildlife, forests, and many rural communities was devastating.


Chestnut blight (Cryphonectria parasitica) attacking a sprout. This sac fungus will kill off the trunk, while the tree will continue to send up new shoots.  Photo by Ed Crawford.

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the stump-sprouting chestnuts have inspired people to help restore the chestnut to its former ecological role.  The American Chestnut Foundation (, founded in 1983, has worked diligently to protect remaining chestnuts that show a degree of blight-resistance and has embarked on an extensive project to hybridize American trees with Chinese specimens.  Generations of backcrossing with American specimens have yielded a tree that is approximately 94% American and expected to show a high degree of blight-resistance.  These “BC3F3” trees may be the pioneers that bring thriving chestnuts back to our forests.


Dr. Gary Carver, Pres. of the Maryland Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation, provides ID tips for distinguishing American and Chinese traits in hybrid and backcrossed trees.  Photo by Jason Beale.

Abbott’s Mill Nature Center in Milford, Delaware features remnant American Chestnuts, Chinquapins, and the remnants of a former Chinese Chestnut plantation.  Inspired by the story of the chestnut and coupled with  ongoing habitat restoration projects, Abbott’s Mill staff toured Maryland’s American Chestnut Society Chapter’s restoration projects.  We returned and planted four saplings from a surviving American Chestnut (known as a mother tree) as the first step in working with TACF to restore chestnuts in Delaware along with an interpretive trail highlighting the natural and cultural history of the tree.


This ~50 ft. “survivor” tree in Maryland provides hope that the American Chestnut could return to the eastern forest.  Photo by Jason Beale.

Please contact Abbott’s Mill Nature Center at 302-422-0847 or if you are interested in helping us bring the chestnut back and turn over a new leaf in this tree’s incredible story.

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

This very large Northern Red Oak sits along Bucktoe Road, New Garden Twp,. PA on the Bucktoe Creek Preserve.

Across the street from where I live is a huge Northern Red Oak I admire on a daily basis.  In the fall of the last several years, this big tree sports a ring of big, bright orange mushrooms growing in clumps near its base.  This year, I decided to figure out what they are.  A search through my Peterson Field Guide to Mushrooms indicated that I had found the Jack O’Lantern.

Jack O’Lantern mushrooms are poisonous, glow in the dark, grow around oaks, and generally indicate that the tree is in poor health, and may be a sign of heart rot in the tree. It also contains a natural toxin called Irofluven that is being tested for its ability to treat cancer tumors.

The Jack O’Lantern smells good, and even supposedly tastes good, but is poisonous because it contains a muscarine toxin.  Here is a description of what might happen to you if you eat these mushrooms and get a good dose of muscarine:  The symptoms start early, after one-quarter to two hours, with headache, nausea, vomiting, and constriction of the pharynx. Then salivation, lacrimation, and diffuse perspiration set in, combined with miosis, disturbed accommodation, and reduced vision. Gastric and small bowel colic leads to diarrhea, and there is a painful urge for urination. Bronchoconstriction leads to asthmatic attacks and severe dyspnea, and bradycardia combined with marked hypotension and vasodilation results in circulatory shock. Death after 8 to 9 hours has been reported in about 5% of the cases, but can be avoided completely by prompt diagnosis and treatment with atropine.  (Waser, 1961).

As unpleasant as this sounds, there have been cases where people have eaten this mushroom not once, but twice!  Instead of eating the Jack O’Lantern, I suggest admiring its beauty both day AND night.  During the day, the beauty is obvious, with its eye-catching, blaze-orange layers of gilled fungi.  At night, the gills of this mushroom become faintly bioluminescent, emmitting a greenish glow.  By the time I learned this, the ones across the street from my house had started to rot, and lost their bioluminescent qualities.  The suggested method to see them glow is to get your eyes adjusted to the dark, and then go take a look.  Other people have tried sitting with them in a dark closet until they glow.  If you try that, let me know how it works.

Back to the huge oak tree where the Jack O’Lantern is found near my house.  Unfortunately, these mushrooms indicate that this fabulous tree may be in poor or declining health, and the tree may have heart rot, according to Nancy Fisher Gregory, Plant Diagnostician with the University of Delaware.  On a positive note, this mushroom contains a natural toxin called Irofluven that has promise in the medical treatment of cancer tumors. 

As always with mushrooms, do not eat them unless you absolutely, positively know what they are.  Even if they smell good, they might be poisonous, like the Jack O’Lantern. 

Peter G. Waser; Chemistry and pharmacology of muscarine, muscarone and some related compounds; Pharmacology Department, University of Zurich, Switzerland 1961.  Viewed through Wikipedia on October 9, 2012.

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

Each fall, at about this time, a strange white blob, about the size of a volleyball, starts growing from the side of a silver maple tree near the entrance to Ashland.  If you take the walkway from the parking lot to the center, you can’t miss it.  A week or so after it appears, it develops long, stringy strands that dangle downwards like little fingers.  This beautiful, but slightly scary sight is a Bearded Tooth mushroom (Hericium erinaceus).  Among its other names are Lion’s Mane, Hedgehog Mushroom, Satyr’s Beard, and Pom Pom Mushroom.  If you want to see it, you’d better hurry up.  Soon it will start to rot and insects will damage it.  But right now, it looks really cool. 

This Bearded Tooth, a type of mushroom, is currently growing along the entrance walkway to Ashland Nature Center.

This is an edible mushroom, but only when it is young and first appears.  It is said to have a similar texture to seafood like octopus and squid and the flavor of lobster.  In Chinese cuisine, where they call it the “Monkey Head Mushroom”, it is substituted for pork or lamb.  Apparently, this fungus is saprobic and parasitic, meaning that it feeds by decaying dead wood in the tree, but also attacks living tissue for nourishment.

It is easy to see why another name for this fungus is the Hedgehog Mushroom. I took this photo looking up at the fungus.

This fungus is found in Europe, Asia, and North America.  Apparently it is quite rare in Europe.  Do you want to try it without the hassle of finding and picking it?  Here is a website I found where you can purchase “canned Monkey Head Mushroom” from China.  Good luck!  And don’t pick the one at Ashland!! 

Maybe you can find this mushroom for sale in a can!