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Toadstools (iPhone 7) by Brook Taintor, 9; published in Stone Soup October 2022

A note from William Rubel


Friends –

I hope all is well with you. I am in Oregon today speaking at a mushroom conference. In one of my lives outside of Stone Soup, I write about the most beautiful mushroom of all, Amanita muscaria, which is the mushroom in the magnificent photograph above by Brook Taintor. For us emoji users, this mushroom is the basis for the 🍄 emoji! As an independent scholar, and writer, I have been working on this mushroom for the last sixteen years!

I first started writing about Amanita muscaria in “Economic Botany,” a peer-reviewed journal. My article has had a big influence on how people think about the mushroom. It had previously always been labeled poisonous in mushroom field guides, but based on my work it is now considered a mushroom that can be safely eaten if it is first parboiled.

It is always satisfying when something one writes turns out to have influence. The Wikipedia entry on this mushroom cites my article as the lead authority on Amanita muscaria’s edibility. This is already influencing the latest group of published mushroom field guides. One reason my article was so well-received is because I wrote about the history of this mushroom in a series of little stories. Even when writing nonfiction, I often think like a fiction writer. And I often use literary devices more often associated with fiction. Effective storytelling, which is what Stone Soup is all about, is the skill at the heart of all kinds of writing.

The  same skills you, as a young writer, are developing for publication in Stone Soup will be useful to you as you move into high school, and beyond. In fact, when you approach that all-consuming college application essay, you will find that being an articulate storyteller comes in handy.

My best,

William's Weekly Project

The subject of Brook Taintor’s photograph is a group of toadstools easily identifiable as Amanita muscaria mushrooms: It has a red cap with white “warts,” white gills, which you can see in the mushroom closest to the camera, remnants of its veil, and a bulbous base. The picture captures the mushroom well enough to illustrate the specimen in a plant identification book.

Amanita muscaria is common in Northern Hemisphere temperate forests. It tends to grow on the forest edge. This is an important fact if you’re out looking for the mushroom in the forest — check the edges! The mushroom in the photograph is actually growing in association with the trees you see in the background, so if you were a mushroom collector foraging in that area, you’d look for a specific kind of tree and probably also a certain combination of plants out of which the mushrooms are growing. Brook’s photograph tells us something important about the habitats where this mushroom can be found.

I want you to photograph something that is growing in your yard, neighborhood, or a nearby park. Whatever you choose, include enough of the where to give a sense of the plant’s habitat. There are many kinds of plants that favor urban spaces like cracks in the sidewalk, for example. Including the sidewalk in such a photograph would convey important habitat information. Urban plants are part of an ecosystem! You don’t have to be near raw nature to be a nature photographer.

In addition to including  information about where the plant is growing, give thought to how your image is composed. Brook’s work has a clear foreground (the greens out of which the mushrooms are growing), a middle ground (the mushrooms themselves), and a background (that gorgeous grey rock with its moss and lichens and the trees beyond).

I suggest you move around whatever you choose to photograph, taking pictures at different angles and different distances from your subject to find the photograph that says what you want it to say. As always, if you like what you create and would like to share it, then please submit your work by clicking the button below.

Stone Soup is published by Children’s Art Foundation-Stone Soup Inc., a 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit organization registered
in the United States of America, EIN: 23-7317498.


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