News & Stories abstracts
Jun 15th, 2006

Inconspicuous joys: Mushrooms and lichens

(The Paintbrush, May-June 2006)

Marc F. Acuña

Now that we are in the late days of spring and the Tongva plant world seems to dry up and almost disappear, I'd like to draw our attention to two wonderful gems:  Sesoamaka which was collected in spring when the oak woodlands were drenched with the winter rains and the endless variations of Totoekomuk spotting year round in the canyons and gullies of the Los Angeles mountains.

Lepista nuda from David Arora’s Mushrooms Demystified

Sesoamaka (mushroom) was a special delicacy.  Gathered in spring the stems and heads were cooked on hot stones or baked in simple earth ovens.  But the best use was mixing the pieces into acorn mush.  Weywish with sesoamaka was a great treat.  Of all the varieties of the delicate fungi, the favorite was "Lepista nuda", its pink cap begging to be picked and relished.

The opposite  of the moist simple mushrooms is the hard tree, rock, and boulder spots of lichen found in caves and fissures, canyons and gullies from the San Bernardinos to the Santa Monicas, the San Gabriels and the rock surfaces of the Verdugos and San Rafaels.  Some Tongva shamans would travel north to the lands of the Kawaiisu to trade for Ramalina menziesii (Lace Lichen), for it was said that this powerful lichen could cause rain.  In the San Bernardino mountains, Letharia vulpina was gathered to use as a poultice for inflammations and for its wonderful yellow dye.  It was also made into a poison for arrow tips.

During hard times when food was scarce, the Tongva, as did many of their neighbors, resorted to scraping the rock spots for food, boiling the oranges, yellows, blacks, whites, and grays into thick soups.  Lichens were always available year round and the locations were noted with loving care. Royce Canyon in the Griffith Park area of the Santa Monica mountains was such a special place. Tongva villagers from Ha.a.hamongna, Yangna, and Maungna came here to gather the spots that Coyote left on the rocks for his people. In the great stone outcroppings overlooking the Chumash village of Homaliwu, which the Tongva called Ongobehangna, enormous lichen growths splatter the orange-golden boulders dazzling in their multicolored Jackson Pollock stains.

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