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Factoids from 15 years of Fungus Among Us

PHOTO CREDIT: BOB BRETT. FUN GUYS AND GALS: Fungus Among Us is celebrating 15 years.

This weekend is the Naturalists’ 15th annual Fungus Among Us event. Over that time, hundreds of locals have participated in mushroom walks, talks, displays, and cooking shows. To help celebrate, we’re delighted to welcome back 20 of our favourite fungus gurus to lead our event (details at the bottom of this page). Here are some factoids we’ve learned from them since our first event.

Mushrooms have personalities

Some things happen each fall, like falling leaves and housing shortages. Mushrooms aren’t so predictable. During our second year, for example, we found 132 different species of mushrooms of which only 31 were repeats from the first year.

This variability has repeated itself since. Some years the woods are bursting with almost every sort of mushrooms. Others are dominated by Tricholomas (including pine mushrooms), or cobweb-veiled Cortinarius species, or by boletes such as slippery jack. Chanterelles might be plentiful some years and rare as hens’ teeth in others. Plentiful or scarce, there’s always something interesting to find.

Mushrooms are people too…

…Or at least closer than they are to plants. Back in the 1700s, Linnaeus classified all life into only two kingdoms: animals and plants. This worldview persisted until 1969 when fungi were finally recognized in their own kingdom. While scientists still debate how many kingdoms there are, fungi have kept their place as a separate kingdom more closely related to animals than plants.

It makes sense that fungi are more like us since only plants can transform the sun’s energy into food through photosynthesis. Like us, fungi have to get their energy either from a plant or something that’s eaten a plant.

What are all those mushrooms doing in our Whistler woods?

Most mushrooms in coniferous forests are attached to tree roots. Like other plants, trees create sugars through photosynthesis. The trees share those sugars with the fungi through their roots and the fungi use the sugars to, among other things, construct the fruiting bodies (mushrooms) that spread their spores. In return, the fungi deliver water and nutrients back to the tree. Most mushrooms in our woods need trees and most of our trees need mushrooms.

How trees talk to each other

It’s recently been shown that fungal filaments (mycorrhizae) can provide a conduit that links two or more trees. Suzanne Simard at UBC has a popular talk (“How trees talk to each other”) that provides a fascinating insight into these linkages. She has even found that a tree is more likely to pass nutrition to trees related to it (which she calls mother and daughter trees, respectively).

Will it kill me?

This is the second most common question at our public walks, just after “is it edible?” As Andy MacKinnon happily points out, there are actually more poisonous plants than poisonous mushrooms. While touching a poisonous mushroom won’t kill you, it’s still prudent to know for sure what mushroom you’ve found before considering it for dinner, and that’s where our gurus can help.

Fungus Among Us this weekend:

Friday night (7:30 to 9:00pm): Talks by gurus followed by a bring-your-own mushroom contest. Saturday walks (8:15am to noon) followed by a cooking show featuring Chef Bruce Worden (12:30-2:00pm) and free mushroom display (2:30 to 4:00pm). All events at Myrtle Philip. Pricing and details at: Tickets are limited and available at the Naturalist’s AGM, Thursday 5:30pm at the Museum, or at the event.

Written by: Bob Brett


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