When I was out taking photos of mushrooms, I came across two people who had an empty basket. I saw them again when I reached the far side of Hills Pond in Menotomy Rocks Park, Arlington Massachusetts, USA. This time the basket was full of hen of the woods mushrooms that they found at the base of oak trees. They also had honey mushrooms in a cloth bag.
They told me that the number of mushrooms you can collect at one time in Europe is limited so as to leave some for others. Here there are no such limits. They had never seen so many mushrooms. In fact, they would need to give away some of the bounty they had collected.
The woman, who told me she is a member of the Boston mycological society explained that while books and online resources (like this one) can be helpful, the best way to learn which mushrooms are safe to eat is to go out with a local expert acting as guide.
While I find fungi fascinating for their aesthetics and biological complexity, they also have cultural significance and have been used in art. The Maya carved wonderful mushroom stones. A jade pendant (below) bears witness to the Chinese appreciation for fungi which have long been an important part of traditional Chinese medicine.
Fungi have been found to support the health of forests while keeping them from filling up with dead wood. Historically, humans have used mushrooms as food, medicine, and for their psychotropic properties. More recently, fungi have been used to control insect pests and to clean up organic waste. No doubt additional uses will be found as we learn more about them and their roles in ecosystems.