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Fungus Among Us: 20 years of cultivating Whistler’s love for mushrooms

The annual event returns Oct. 14-16 with guided nature walks, expert talks and mushroom displays

Local mushroom picker Veronica Woodruff didn’t always appreciate fungi.

“The first time I went mushroom picking, I came from Ontario, so I’m like a classic mycophobe, where it was like, ‘Don’t even look at a mushroom. Don’t touch that or you’ll get poisoned,’” she recalled.

That first time, a friend had invited her to go hunt for pine mushrooms, which she considered strange given her outsized fear of the things. “Don’t you know mushrooms can kill you?” she thought. But something flipped on that initial trip up the Duffey the moment she spotted her first pine mushroom.

“It was instant, like, ‘Oh, I never knew this part of nature existed,’” she said.

It was through her involvement with the Whistler Naturalists and their annual Fungus Among Us festival, which returns Oct. 14 and 15, that Woodruff’s curiosity bloomed into something more.

“It was the start-up of Fungus Among Us and listening to [author and noted B.C. mushroom expert] Andy MacKinnon talk about the top 10 mushrooms you should know. It was really neat. It was like, ‘OK, I can do this,’” Woodruff said. “It’s a bit of a progression to go from a mycophobe to where I am today.”

Fungus Among Us has been turning mycophobes into mushroom connoisseurs for 20 years now, and the fungi fun continues next weekend with expert talks, guided nature walks and mushroom displays.

The festivities kick off at the Legends Hotel in Creekside on Friday, Oct. 14 at 7 p.m. with “Talks with Gurus,” a variety of short talks, featuring Thom O’Dell, discussing why mushrooms are important, and Woodruff herself, who will be presenting on local mushrooms you should know. Among some of her favourites are the dead man’s foot, a large mushroom in the puffball family that she described as a “toddler’s dream of sludge” because, if you step on them at certain times of year, “it’s like stepping onto a gooey, orange paint can.” Then there’s the eyelash cup, a small mushroom that is easy to miss but resplendent in its delicate beauty when examined under a hand lens, and another gooey fungus that is most definitely Halloween-appropriate: the bloody mushroom, a stunning white fungus that appears to ooze blood when wet.

“You start to learn about these species of fungi that have the most interesting life histories, the way that they connect to the forest,” Woodruff said. “I love the [author and UBC professor] Suzanne Simard quote from her TED Talk where she says under every footstep is like 1,000 kilometres of mycelium—between a single footstep in the woods. It’s astounding.”

The “Walks with Gurus” sets off at 8:45 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 15, where some of B.C.’s leading mycologists will head up a mushroom tour throughout Whistler. New this year, ticket holders will receive instructions prior to the event on which trailhead to meet their expert at, as opposed to meeting at Myrtle Philip Community School, as in past years. Limited tickets are still available.

Then, mushroom pickers will show off their finds at Legends Hotel with a mushroom display from 2:40 to 4 p.m., with the fungal treasures labelled and explained by the experts. Tickets are not required, and entry is by donation.

For the past few weeks, the Whistler Naturalists have been running The Fantastic Fungi Photo Contest, with prizes for the top photos in such categories as

Captivating Colour, Weird and Wonderful and Tiny Toadstools. There are also draw prizes for anyone who submits in all five categories. Photos must be taken in Whistler since Sept. 12, and the deadline for submissions is Oct. 12 at 5 p.m. Details at

A big part of Fungus Among Us in recent years has been its educational component in local schools, with experts visiting students across the corridor in the week leading up to the festival. Experts take students outside for an introduction to the world of mushrooms, and this year, will be visiting the Xet’ólacw Community School in Mount Currie for the first time.

“I think for some kids, this is their thing, and maybe there are classroom teachers that don’t have the mushroom knowledge our scientists do, so it’s about giving those keen kids an opportunity, and kids who don’t know much, hopefully opening their eyes to the magic of mushrooms,” said the Whistler Naturalists’ Kristina Swerhun. “Life wouldn’t be possible without mushrooms and fungi.”

To purchase tickets or find more information, head to the Whistler Naturalists' website.