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Archive for October 31st, 2010

Stalking the Wild Fungi

Chanterelles at Yachats

For the last 2 months I have been engaged in learning everything I can about the fungi that grows in Cascadia.  Why I am writing about this on a blog that is trying to support our reconnection with native plants?  The reason my dear friends is that you cannot learn the life cycles of native plants without understanding the fungi, especially the Mycelium.

For instance, last year I sat upon a journey to try and find and photograph wild orchids in the coastal areas and coastal mountains of Cascadia.  It was not an easy task.  Many of the orchids such as the Fairyslipper (Calypso bulbosa), Mountain Lady slipper (Cypripedium montanum), Western Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata ssp. Mertensiana) and the Slender Bog Orchid (Platanthera stricta) grow in very fragile areas of our ecosystem.  One indication that an ecosystem is healthy is that the mycelium is unbroken and produces a plethora of fungi.  From spring to fall each year there should be lots and lots of fungi, edible and otherwise available in the forest.

Some orchids will only grow where the Mycelium is intact.  That means there must be old growth trees, few logging roads, and especially there can be no clear cuts. Mycelium provides water and nutrients that keep the forest alive.

So I began my two month long cram session on fungi.  I attended the Yachats Mushroom Fest held in Yachats, Oregon.  I also attended an overnight fungi workshop held at Drift Creek Camp near Lincoln City, Oregon.  The workshop was sponsored by the Friends of Straub Environmental Learning Center in Salem, Oregon.

The Yachats Mushroom fest was three days long and wonderfully educational.  I am a amateur naturalist, a native plant lover without much training in biology or botany.  And, whatever training I attend cannot be too intellectual.  I need teachers who will speak in the language of the naturalist, not the scientist.  But I need the science to be able to fully emerge myself in helping the save these amazing native plants. I was pleasanly surprized at the level of education. I not only understood, but my passion for wild nature was strengthened.  In Yachats we attended two workshops and a mushroom collecting and identifying walk in which the instructors could speak both languages.  One of the workshops was all about the nutritional value of edible mushrooms and also how to cook  and store them.  I learned that there are between 3500 and 4000 varieties of mushrooms and fungi in the Cascadian bioregion.  I learned that many are both nutritional and medicinal and much of the world uses these fungi for healing, nutrition and utility. The cooks made delicious pizza and pâté made from wild Chanterelles mushrooms.

The overnight event organized by the Friends of Straub Environmental Learning center and held at Drift Creek camp was well organized.  We spent two hours in lecture learning about the ecology and identification of mushrooms. Our instructor was Jake Hurlbert, who also taught at the Yachats Mushroom fest was exceptional. Jake is the educational mycologist for the Pacific Northwest Mycological Association and also belongs to the Lincoln County Mycologial society. Presently Jake is conducting a 7-year study of the ecology of fungi and plants of Oregon.

 Did you know that fungi evolved from the same genome as animals?  Now isn’t that strange.  We are closer to fungi than plants genetically!   Jake sent all participants out into the forest for three hours and told us to collect whatever we found.  He then had us bring all the specimens back and he spent another two hours identifying them and taught us about the ecology of these fungi.  Then we had a nice dinner of wild mushroom lasagna and spent a cozy rainy night in a great lodge.

If you would like to know about about fungi – find out if there is a local Mushroom (mycological) society near you.  Here is a link to a website (Puget Sound Mycological Society) that lists many of the mushroom societies in Cascadia. My favorite of course is the Lincoln County Mycological Society.  After all these rains, we should a really nice crop of Chanterelles available.  Happy Mushrooming!

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