There's something about mushrooms, from the strange and savory edible varieties that line the shelves of local stores to the bright, poisonous varieties that come in every size, shape and colour.
There are mushrooms that sell for over $2,000 per pound, the Japanese matsutake. There are mushrooms packed with psilocybins that work like psychedelic drugs on the user, and that have been used by shamans since prehistoric times — and that researchers are investigating in the treatment of cluster headaches, OCD and clinical depression. Mushrooms led to the discovery of penicillin and other antivirals and antimicrobial drugs. There are mushrooms that may be able to shrink tumors and lower your risk of cholesterol, or that work as an anti-inflammatory.
Despite the potential benefits of all the fungi in our woods, they're still somewhat of a mystery. We know the edible varieties well because we've probably been eating them since the dawn of humanity, but there are just so many types out there that it will take lifetimes to properly catalog them all and investigate what properties they might have. In B.C. alone there are between 5,000 and 10,000 varieties of mushrooms (just 33 of them are edible) with new discoveries being made all of the time.
Whistler has embraced the science of mushrooms for a decade now, going back to the Whistler Naturalists' first Fungus Among Us festival in 2003 — a fall weekend dedicated to collecting different species and learning all about them.
This year's festival takes place this weekend with events on Friday, Oct. 12 and Saturday, Oct. 13.
Friday night is the "Talks with Gurus" portion of the weekend. Silvia Bergensen will present a workshop on "Dyeing with mushrooms," looking at some of the different dyes that are produced by native fungi. As well, mycologist (mushroom expert) Paul Kroeger of the Vancouver Mycological Society will also give a talk titled "Spores of the Outer Coast." Both events take place at Myrtle Philip School from 7:30 p.m. at a cost of $8 to Whistler Naturalists members and $10 to non-members.
Saturday morning is the "Walks with Gurus" component of the weekend, with a wide range of mycologists and biologists leading groups into the woods in search of mushrooms and other interesting fungus. Groups leave at 8:30 a.m. from Myrtle Philip School, and will be gone until noon. The cost is $10 for members and $15 for non-members. Dress for the weather and for walking off the beaten path in search of mushrooms — harder to find this year with the dry weather than in other years. Families are welcome.
On Saturday afternoon from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m., Ophra Buckman will lead a cooking demo of wild B.C. mushrooms. There is limited seating and this event has sold out in the past. The cost is $20 for members and $25 for non-members.
Silvia Bergensen will be giving another workshop on "Hands-on Dyeing" using mushrooms from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.; $8 for members, $10 for non-members.
The day's collected finds will also be on display for free at the school from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Experts will be on hand to explain what's what and answer any questions.
All events are at Myrtle Philip. You can buy a pass for all of the events for $35 for members or $45 for non-members. Memberships are available for $20. For more, visit www.whistlernaturalists.ca.
Old Growth Symposium this weekend
The Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment is hosting a symposium on Oct. 14-15 on old growth forests.
On Sunday, Oct. 14 the event kicks off with a talk at Millennium Place from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on "What are old forests and why are they important?"
On Monday morning from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., guest researchers and scientists will present "Forest Ecology 101" at Nicklaus North Golf Course. That afternoon there is a tour of the Ancient Cedars from 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Visit www.awarewhistler.org.