Naturespeak 

Fungophilia

click to enlarge Paul Kroeger shows a pine mushroom during Fungus Among Us
  • Paul Kroeger shows a pine mushroom during Fungus Among Us

It wasn’t that long ago the average Whistlerite’s knowledge of mushrooms was limited to those bland white buttons that add texture but virtually no taste. Boy, how times change.

These days you can choose from a dozen different wild mushrooms at Nesters and wild mushroom dishes are offered at virtually every eatery. All across Whistler, fungophobia (the irrational fear of mushrooms) is turning into fungopilia (the irrational but altogether enjoyable love of mushrooms).

The most fungophilic folks I know are the experts who return each year to lead our Fungus Among Us mushroom festival (happening again this Friday and Saturday). For these folks, mushrooms are a passion that makes fall the best time of year. Go into the woods with them and a simple walk turns into a treasure hunt and you turn into a kid again.

You have to go into the woods with committed fungophiles to realize just how much is out there. Each year our experts find over 80 species, which, by mid-afternoon Saturday, are neatly labelled and displayed. No white button mushrooms, just boletes and blewits, milky caps and inky caps, chanterelles, russulas, polypores, and more.

In all, these gurus have identified 483 (!) species of mushrooms in the five years of the festival. A quick tally shows 21 of these are choice edibles, 61 less-choice edibles, and 19 poisonous (the rest are some variation of inedible). These are distinctions it is most helpful to make before finding mushrooms on your dinner plate.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is how much results change year to year. Less than half the species repeat from the previous year or reappear the next. So where the heck do they go?

In 2004 it was the year of the Tricholoma (pine mushroom is one). In 2006 it was the year of the Corinarius (the world’s biggest and probably most difficult group of mushrooms). I’ll vote early and often to name 2008 the Year of the Bolete (YOBBO for short) due to the huge volume of boletes and slippery jacks in the woods.

Whatever’s in the woods this weekend, you can’t beat a mushroom walk led by fun and fact-filled fungal folks. For details check out www.whistlernaturalists.ca .

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