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Fungal Factoids (Part 1)


By Bob Brett, Kathy Jenkins, and Andy MacKinnon, Whistler Naturalists


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.

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