Poems about Mushrooms

Although mushrooms grow throughout the year, I have a tendency to notice them more in the fall.  I think this may be because they become more prominent when the grasses and the ground-level vegetation begin to recede.  Or, it may be because I am not distracted by the wildflowers and the abundance of bird songs.  Either way, I have noticed a lot of mushrooms this week, and it got me thinking about their role in poetry.  

Emily Dickinson (1830-1866) often wrote about nature in her poetry. In the poem “The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants-(1350)”, Dickinson’s observational skills and knowledge of the natural world are evident.

“The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants-(1350)” – Emily Dickinson

The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants -
At Evening, it is not
At Morning, in a Truffled Hut
It stop opon a Spot

As if it tarried always
And yet it’s whole Career
Is shorter than a Snake’s Delay -
And fleeter than a Tare -

’Tis Vegetation’s Juggler -
The Germ of Alibi -
Doth like a Bubble antedate
And like a Bubble, hie -

I feel as if the Grass was pleased
To have it intermit -
This surreptitious Scion
Of Summer’s circumspect.

Had Nature any supple Face
Or could she one contemn -
Had Nature an Apostate -
That Mushroom - it is Him!

What I find interesting about this poem is how Dickinson moves the reader through her observations.  We start with the almost magical appearance of the mushroom, we then shift to its short lifespan and end with questions about its relationship to other objects in nature.  

In that last stanza Dickinson says, “Had Nature an Apostate-” and “That Mushroom -it is Him!”.  These lines seem to acknowledge that mushrooms do not follow any of the traditional laws of nature. Dickinson is telling us, in her own poetic fashion, that mushrooms are a breed unto themselves.


Poet Paige Quiñones provides another poem about mushrooms.  However, this poem focuses on foraging.

“Mushrooms” by Paige Quiñones

Pulling my first from its place in the forest floor
felt like slipping a key from its partnered, well-oiled lock.
Broken so cleanly at the stem it appeared scalpel-sliced.

You assured me this was a good find, a Boletus from its reddened bruise
and lack of gills. But chanterelles proved easiest to forage;
their penny-bright caps glinted between dead leaves, ripe for the taking.

Spiders were the largest animals we saw that day: orb weavers
bigger than a man’s fist, sharp-legged seamstresses whose webs
like neural networks transgressed each clearing. Without hair

they weren’t so frightening, as if each spider had disrobed herself
to display a less menacing skeleton. Still, we kept our distance.
And suddenly what I had never paid attention to was flourishing:

oysters in bursts around a rotting stump, Amanitas with their white
burial shroud, indigo milk caps as fluted and blue as
a ballerina’s tulle skirt. You told me the wildness

might not be as feral as we think. That the fungi’s filaments
weave a pattern, a conscious fabric, engaging the nearest tree with
its opposite furthest tree to say entwine your roots with my mycelia

and I will tell you my secrets. We followed their invisible cartography
by whatever heads peered up from autumn’s detritus.
And though we were strangers there, unmooring

each mushroom that seemed least dangerous, we could feel
the vast organism underfoot. Silent but for the sounds
of insects, unwitting and soon to be caught.

What I really enjoy about this poem is how Quiñones draws our attention from the easily seen to what lies underground.  The reader is guided through the harvesting of a Boletus, to then imagine the secrets that are shared between the mushrooms and the trees.  Secrets that we may never know. 


A third poem that I wanted to share today was Arthur Sze’s “Mushroom Hunting in the Jemez Mountains.”  This poem can be found in his most recent book, The Glass Constellation: New and Collected Poems.

Walking in a mountain meadow toward the north slope,
I see red-cap amanitas with white warts and know
they signal cèpes. I see a few colonies of puffballs,
red russulas with chalk-white stipes, brown-gilled
Poison Pie. In the shade under the spruce are two
red-pored boletes: slice them in half and the flesh
turns blue in seconds. Under fir is a single amanita
with basal cup, flarinannulus, white cap: is it
the Rocky Mountain form of Amanita pantherina?
I am aware of danger in naming, in misidentification,
in imposing the distinctions of a taxonomic language
onto the things themselves. I know I have only
a few hours to hunt mushrooms before early afternoon rain.
I know it is a mistake to think I am moving and
that argarics are still: they are more transient
than we acknowledge, more susceptible to full moon,
to a single rain, to night air, to a moment of sunshine.
I know in this meadow my passions are mycorrhizal
with nature. I may shout our ecstasies, aches, griefs,
and hear them vanish in the white-pored silence.

What I really like about Sze’s poem is the journey the reader gets to go on.  We get to notice all the different types of mushrooms that are on the mountain trail and we get to name them.  But then we get to wonder about the challenges of labeling living things and the limits of our own perceptions.  In the end, we can relax knowing that we are held by nature because we are nature. 


One last poem that I want to encourage people to read if you are interested in taking a deeper dive into the mystery of the fungal kingdom is “Ants” by Matthew Rohrer.  In this poem, Rohrer describes the parasitic nature of the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis.  This fungus takes over the mind and body of carpenter ants as a means to propagate its spores.  It is definitely an interesting poem and explores the more aggressive side of the natural world.

Possible Milk-Cap in the order of Russulales
Possible Milk-Cap in the order of Russulales

Resources and further reading:

  1. Emily Dickinson, “The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants”
  2. Paige Quiñones, “Mushrooms”
  3. Arthur Sze, “Mushroom Hunting in the Jemez Mountains”
  4. Matthew Rohrer, “Ants”

Books by the poets:

  • Quiñones debut poetry collection The Best Prey is now available.  This collection won the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize and is described as an investigation into the trauma of desire which is populated with stark dualities.
  • Arthur Sze’s book The Glass Constellation: New and Collected Poems has also been recently released. His writing is described as “Fusing elements of Chinese, Japanese, Native American, and various Western experimental traditions–employing startling juxtapositions that are always on target, deeply informed by concern for our endangered planet and troubled species.”
  • Matthew Rohrer’s poem “Ants” came from his book Surrounded by Friends. The publisher describes this book by stating, “Friends, family, and the urban peoplescape are gathered together in these poems, with more and more poetic voices joining in, and ending with poems written in collaboration with Kobayashi Issa, Yosa Buson, Matsuo Basho, and Hafiz.”  

Want to support our work? Visit the Naturalist Weekly bookstore and browse our curated lists of books of poetry and haiku. Or pick up a gift card that can be used throughout the store.  

 Naturalist Weekly accepts donations for coffee and journals.

Naturalist Weekly accepts donations for coffee and journals. Coffee cup photo by Andrew Neel on Pexels.com
Naturalist Weekly accepts donations for coffee and journals.

15 thoughts on “Poems about Mushrooms

Add yours

  1. I also love mushrooms and I’ve noticed they take more prominence in the menu as we enter into Fall. It does make sense since they seem to be more readily available as fruits and vegetables start to end their seasons. I briefly dated a man who hated mushrooms and that is only part of the reason a relationship was doomed never to bloom between us. Hahaha.

    1. Hi Melanie, Thanks for the comment! Funny about the man who didn’t like mushrooms. That almost sounds like it could be a short story of some sorts. I picture that man being very grumpy.

    1. Hi Mary, I really enjoy hearing what other people think about these posts. Often times the comments force me to dive a little deeper into the topic.
      I am glad that you are enjoying the post. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

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