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For the love of mushrooms

Naturalists host annual Fungus Among Us festival

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According to the provincial government there are 33 species of wild edible mushrooms in B.C., out of over a thousand listed species catalogued across the province.

Many of those edible mushrooms species can be found in Whistler, while the other non-edible species of the fungus often play important roles in the surrounding ecosystem – some mushrooms in the Interior have even formed a symbiotic relationship with the roots of local surrounding trees.

With mushrooms growing practically everywhere in the valley, the Whistler Naturalists hosted their first mushroom festival in 2003, which drew more than 40 people. The 2004 event was even bigger, with over 50 participants, and organizers are expecting an even bigger turnout for this year’s Fungus Among Us mushroom festival, Oct. 14-15.

The festival includes presentations by renowned mycologists (mushroom experts) on Friday, followed by organized mushroom walks Saturday morning. At 1 p.m. local chef and mushroomer Ophra Buckman will be putting on a mushroom cooking demonstration using locally picked varieties, as well as some special varieties donated by Nesters. The festival closes with a display of all the local mushroom varieties that were picked during the morning walks, including tips on how to identify them in the field. Last year 81 different species were found within a few hours of walking in the Emerald Forest.

"Last year was a big success, it was a great year for mushrooms and we had great presenters and good attendance," said Bob Brett of the Whistler Naturalists. "This year we have a similar lineup, Andy MacKinnon is back and he’s a great presenter. We also have Adolf and Oluna Ceska, who are phenomenal mycologists. They were in Whistler earlier this summer cataloguing plants for the biodiversity inventory and I was impressed by just how incredibly knowledgeable they are. If there’s anything rare or unusual, they will find it."

MacKinnon and the Ceskas will also guide the mushroom walks on Saturday. Brett is hoping to use areas that were not used in the previous two years, which will bolster the biodiversity inventory he is currently working on for all of Whistler.

"It occurred to me last year, when all the species were laid out and labeled that this is what a biodiversity inventory looks like, so that data can be added to our collection and to the community habitat mapping," said Brett.

People are asked to dress appropriately for the weather, and to leave the buckets at home.

"We’ll definitely be collecting sample species, but the idea is not to clear out the forest of edible mushrooms, but to learn more about the mushrooms, what they look like and where to find them," Brett explained.

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