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If you go into the woods today…


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A forest's health is directly related to the variety and abundance of mycorrhizal fungi and their hosts. Studies have shown that within the topsoil of a typical Douglas fir forest in the Pacific Northwest (a.k.a. here!) the mycelium component approaches 10 per cent of its total biomass, with a cubic centimetre of soil hosting up to 100 metres of mycelium. Local species of mycorrhizal fungi include Wooly Chanterelles ( Gomphus floccossus ), Manzanita Boletes ( Leccinum manzanitae ), Pine Mushrooms ( Tricholoma magnivelare ) and Tumbling Puffballs (Bovista plumbea) .

Fungi, along with bacteria , are the primary decomposers of organic matter in most terrestrial ecosystems worldwide. Again recalling that Grade 9 science class, a saprophyte is an organism that lives on and gets its nourishment from dead organisms or decaying organic material. Saprophytic mushrooms obtain their food energy through the decomposition of dead wood and other organic material on the forest floor and in this process recycle critically limited nutrients back into the soil.

Most of our gourmet mushrooms are saprophytic, wood-decomposing fungi. Their mycelium network weaves between and through the wood’s cell walls, secreting enzymes and acids they break down large molecular complexes into simpler compounds. The end result of their activity is the return of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and minerals back into the ecosystem in forms usable to plants, insects, and other organisms. Local species such as Oyster mushrooms ( Pleurotus species ), Button Mushroom ( Agaricus brunnescens ) and Orange Peel Mushroom ( Aleuria aurantia ) are examples of saprophytic mushrooms.

So next time you wander into the local woods looking to harvest or just appreciate the beauty and complexity of those fruiting bodies of our local mushrooms, you can also marvel about the world of networks and chemical reactions occurring in the soil beneath your feet!


Whistler Naturalist present the Fungus Among Us Mushroom (FAU) Festival, Oct. 17th and 18th