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A many splendid fungi


Mushrooms part of the bounty of the fall

By Ophra Buckman,

Whistler Naturalist Society

When I was asked if I would write an article on mushrooms I decided to take a different approach. There are many articles and books written on identifying, harvesting and cooking edible fungi, but I wanted to tell the tale of why I’m so passionate about mushrooming.

I’ve loved mushrooms since childhood. From Leprechauns and fairies to Alice and Thumbelina there has always been a magical allure associated with fungi.

Mushrooms come in more colours than a rainbow. They smell of anise, almonds, mint, pepper, apricot, orange, cinnamon and pine. Aromas reminiscent of an exotic market stall. Of course, there are also the less savoury smells of fish, urine and rot!

There are bleeding fungi, aborting fungi, milk filled and nesting. Oh, and the textures! Velvet, scaly, smooth, shaggy, and slippery. Pocked, hairy, sculptured, woolly, warted and coral like. You can see cosmic earth stars, volcanic spores and more rings than Saturn.

What other fruit in nature yields such a variety of bazaar and erotic shapes.

There are mushrooms named after human body parts: earth tongues, belly buttons, ears, teeth, dead man’s hands and feet.

One can enjoy eating turkey (tail), chicken (of the woods), hawk’s (wing), deer, horse, hedgehogs, lobster, shrimp and oysters without harming a hair or feather on an animal and remaining a strict vegan.

Which mushroom lover could resist bowing to the Royalty of a King (bolete), Queen (bolete), a Prince, a Knight (blue) or even a gypsy?

What about the opposing forces of good and evil? There are angel’s wings and Satan’s bolete. Delicious milk cap and the emetic Russula (not a good eating choice!). Enjoy Honey mushrooms, but avoid the Alcohol Inky Cap.

For me, one of the most entertaining parts of reading about mushrooms is the names. There are cowboy’s handkerchiefs and witches hats, man on horseback and ma’am on motorcycle. My favourites however are Big laughing mushroom and the Pom Pom de Blanc. I just love saying it!

I would recommend that any novice picker should first learn to identify the Death Cap (most deadly mushroom known to mankind), Destroying Angel, Deadly Galerina, Poison Pie and the Sickener. With names like that you better believe they are dangerous! Purchase a good book or two. My favourites are the National Audubon Society Field Guide: Mushrooms North America, and David Arora’s All That the Rain Promises and More. Learn to make spore prints. Look for key identifying features and dangerous look alikes. Spend your first season picking with an experienced picker. Be respectful. Don’t pick in the parks. Pick only what you’ll eat. Then go out and enjoy the forest. Besides the obvious uses of mushrooms for food or medicines, they are used to make dye for wool, drawing ink, to cure alcoholics, as a painting surface for artists or to poison ones enemies!

Mushrooms are harvested the world over and loved equally by peasants and scientists, chefs and shamans.

Have a puffing ball!

The Whistler Naturalist Society is putting on a two-day event in October to celebrate everything weird, wild and wonderful about mushrooms!

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