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NatureSpeak Articles

Fungal Factoids

Best reason to go outside on a rainy day.

Here’s a secret Tourism Whistler doesn’t know: Whistler is rainy in the fall. And the first factoid is that mushrooms love rain. So in the spirit of can’t beat ’em, join ’em, why not become a mushroom hunter?

Fungus, Mushroom or Toadstool?

A rose might smell as sweet no matter what you call it, but the various names for mushrooms can cause trouble. All mushrooms are fungi, but not all fungi are mushrooms (for example, lichens). Mushroom is the term used to describe the larger, above-ground fruiting bodies of some fungi. (If they’re below-ground, they’re called truffles.)

The term ‘toadstool’ comes from the German Todesstuhl (death stool) thereby negating any reference to resting amphibians. In the UK it is apparently illegal to call anything a mushroom that isn’t related to a meadow mushroom (Agaricus species, including the incredibly bland button mushrooms of supermarket fame). The fungophobic Brits call everything else toadstools.

What are all those mushrooms doing in our Whistler woods?

Well, most of the big ones are growing attached to the roots of the trees. The trees, being plants, can photosynthesize — that is, make sugars from sunlight, water and carbon dioxide in the air. The trees share their sugars with the fungi attached to their roots, and the fungi use the sugars to construct mushrooms. The fungus, for its part, has filaments throughout the soil, and it helps the tree gather water and some nutrients. No trees, no mushrooms. And in most cases, no mushrooms, no trees.

Wood-wide web

The fungi that are attached to the roots of trees are often times attached to the roots of more than one tree. We’re just beginning to figure out what they’re up to, but it’s clear that some fungi pass materials such as sugars from one tree to another. And it’s probably the mushrooms that are in charge of the operation.

Will it kill me?

This is about the most common question at our public walks (well, maybe after “where are the pine mushrooms?”). In fact, there are far more poisonous plants around than poisonous mushrooms. And touching a poisonous mushroom won’t kill you.

Safest wild mushroom

There’s safe and there’s edible, as in it won’t kill you. But assuming you want something pretty easy to find, safe to identify, and tasty to eat you have a few options. If you’re local or just litigious, we recommend the great selection of wild shrooms at Nesters. Otherwise, shaggy manes are by far the easiest mushrooms to identify. They have no poisonous mimics and shaggy mane soup is way better than the Campbell’s in a can. Another good bet are the sponge mushrooms (like boletes and slippery jacks), as long as they don’t have red pores, or stain blue.

At least it tasted good.

Death cap (Amanita phalloides), the species responsible for 90 per cent of world-wide deaths from mushrooms, so far hasn’t been reported in Whistler. One weird factoid about death caps is that they’re apparently quite delicious, though dying afterwards has got to be considered a downside.

Best tenacity through adversity

If you’ve ever seen a mushroom burst up through pavement, you know the power that fungi can create from a few fleshy filaments and a lot of water pressure. The seemingly fragile shaggy mane (see above) is a champion pavement-buster around Whistler.

Upcoming Events

Fungus Among Us Mushroom Festival, Oct. 12-13th at Millennium Place.

Talks with: Andy MacKinnon (“Whistler’s Top 10 Safest Wild Mushrooms”) and Paul Kroeger: (“Magic Mushrooms Past and Present”), Friday 7:30 p.m. ($5/$8). Saturday guided walks, 8:45-noon, meet outside Millennium Place ($10/$15). Gourmet Tastings with Chef Ophra Buckman and Chef Grant Coussar, all dishes made with local wild mushrooms. Saturday 12:30-2:30 ($20/$25). All events $25/35; All-day Saturday $20/$30. Kids free. Lower rates are for Whistler Naturalists members ($15 annual dues).

Written by: Bob Brett, Kathy Jenkins, and Andy MacKinnon


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