The sight of honey mushrooms clustered around the base of an oak tree is, for me, kind of overwhelming. Two conflicting emotions collide. First comes wild joy, because honey mushrooms are delicious and usually plentiful, meaning I can drag bags of them home. That joy is quickly tempered, however, when I look up at the bare branches of the host tree. Honey mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of armillaria mellea, one example of which which has the distinction of being the largest living organism on the planet. They are also pathogenic parasites that rot wood and kill trees.
The path they are carving in one forest I frequent is clear. A long dead and now decaying oak stump stands uphill from the tree pictured above. Downhill from this tree, another handsome oak sprouted a handful of mushrooms this year. A pair of trees nearby are as yet unaffected – visibly, at least. But you know their days are numbered.
Honey mushrooms are rich tasting and flavorful. As I carry bags of them off (taking care in this case to use plastic, not mesh) I hope that the fact that I’m removing so many spores from the ecosystem will slow their march.