Visiting researchers unearth mushroom facts

  • Sep. 26, 2008 1:00 p.m.

by Heather Ramsay-Finding an unknown species would be a dream, but any information collected about mushrooms and other islands fungi will suffice, say visiting mycologists. Over the past four years a group of mushroom experts have been combing the mossy hillsides, looking under logs and peering through the grasses of Gwaii Haanas to create a fungi inventory of the National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site. This year, mycologists Paul Kroeger and Oluna Ceska, along with Oluna’s husband, botanist Adolf Ceska, returned to work with the Forest Guardians on an inventory of Graham Island fungi as well. Mr. Kroeger gave a presentation at the Naikoon Park Headquarters in Tlell on Sept. 21 and shared some of what they’ve learned to the dozen who were gathered there. One of the most interesting things about islands, he said, is a theory called island biogeography, which suggests that islands have fewer species than the nearby mainland. He and the others would like to determine if this holds true on Haida Gwaii, and at the same time they are looking for evidence of relictualism (the tendency for species extinct elsewhere to have escaped glaciation and survived on islands). Of course, the most prized species that grow on the islands include king boletes (Boletus edulis) and chanterelles, but Mr. Kroeger said many don’t realize there are two chanterelles, the Cantharellus formosus and the Cantharellus cibarius. He says they are both edible and tasty but one has more of an apricot smell. Researchers have made 1,800 collections of mushrooms over the past four years and said they were intrigued by how interested people have been when they’ve done any presentations. Mr. Kroeger would like to get more information about species on Haida Gwaii out to people. For example, he showed us two species of Cortinarius, one which can stop a human liver from functioning and the other can take out a pair of kidneys. He says the effects of eating either of these two mushrooms (in quantity) won’t show up for two weeks and can kill a person. He thinks local health care professionals should be briefed on these and other dangerous fungi on the islands so they may be able to make a speedy diagnosis. He and the Ceskas are often called by doctors in the city when mushroom poisonings are suspected. One thing he said to keep in mind is that the quicker one gets sick from a mushroom the less long-term danger they are in. But if a mushroom makes you sick once, he advised against trying it again, even if it is a choice edible species, because allergies can easily form and then mushroom-related illnesses can escalate. As for rare species, Mr. Kroeger says they have found some. One found in the sand dunes of Rose Spit and at Misty Meadows hasn’t been found anywhere else in BC except Osoyoos (Psathyrella agrocybe) and another species has so far only been found in outer coast environments like Tofino and Oregon (Stereopsis humphreyi). He says scientists suspect this mushroom survived the last ice age. There are still some notable species that have not been found on the islands by researchers, including the Leccinum or scaber-stalk mushroom, which is much like a bolete. At the meeting, several residents told Mr. Kroeger where he might find these nearby in Tlell. In keeping with his mycological society’s efforts to get a provincial mushroom named, Mr. Kroeger also has a suggestion for a “national” mushroom for Haida Gwaii. It’s called Amanita franchetii and has an olive or brown coloured cap with whitish/yellowish warts and a scaly veil around the stem. When asked why this particular fungi, Mr. Kroeger answered, “Because it’s very attractive and grows in great abundance on Haida Gwaii, but in most other areas it’s fairly unusual.” Mr. Kroeger thinks it would look great as an emblem and on pins or patches for jackets. Suggestions for the provincial mushroom of BC include Amanita muscaria (fly agaric), pine mushroom and the liberty cap. One of the most important things to note, Mr. Kroeger said, is that mushroom studies can not be undertaken over short periods of time. So little is known about the lifecycle of most fungi that the researchers say the only way to really know what exists on Haida Gwaii is to keep looking and recording species – possibly as long as 30 years. “Mushrooms are not like plants. They are not stationary,” said Mr. Kroeger. He said one might not fruit for years, then fruit one year, then come back in a nearby site the next year. Lana Wilhelm of the Forest Guardians says the Council of the Haida Nation is interested in exploring possibilities for mushroom cultivation on the islands – fungi can be used as medicines, foods and also in remediation work for oil spills. She’d also like to gauge interest in starting an amateur mycological society on the islands. Activities could include mushroom walks, talks, website, blogs and other forays. Contact her at 626-6058 if you’re interested.

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