O n a sun-dappled trail in the woods of Calabasas, Jess Starwood narrows her eyes and gasps with glee. Scrambling up a leafy hillside, she points to a small hump in the ground, covered in leaf litter. “That’s a shrump,” she says – a mushroom hump, where a mushroom may be pushing up the ground as it emerges.
There were times when Starwood, an author, naturalist and foraging guide, would walk this trail and consider herself lucky to find even one mushroom. Today, on one of the hikes she regularly leads, we uncover nearly 50 mushrooms of 10 different species pushing up through the ground, growing out of damp logs, or springing from the dark earth.
The reason? A slew of rainstorms walloping California throughout the winter, creating the ideal conditions for mushrooms to thrive. Experts are calling it a once-in-a-generation shroom boom, with highly saturated soils extending the mushroom season far past its usual peak of January and February. That’s brought enthusiasts in droves to forage mushrooms for cooking and medicinal uses, and given researchers a rare opportunity to survey the breadth of fungal diversity that is usually hidden underground.
I bend down to peek at the shrump Starwood identified. From the top it looks ordinary enough, but from the side, I can see a fruiting body is pushing out of the ground. With a grin, Starwood carefully extracts a golden chanterelle and holds it up, delicately dusting off the dirt with a brush.