Two small groups of masked Mayne Islanders explored lower Mount Parke in search of fungi specimens on our October mushroom walks. There were many pairs of smiling eyes taking in the variety and beauty of these living organisms, all feeling very fortunate to be guided by Rene Zich, a mushroom expert from Galiano Island. With the help of locals Michael Dunn and Mike Nadeau, plus two mushroom identification guides, we were able to add a further 20 species to the 2019 list. Paul Kroeger, a leading Vancouver mycologist, continues to be involved in this project by cross-checking species lists and is essential to our learning about the fungi of Mayne. If you were not able to join us this year, here are some “Fun Facts about Fungi” you may enjoy. We look forward to welcoming Paul and Rene back next year if the health situation improves enough to allow a larger Conservancy-hosted event.
Mushrooms occupy their very own kingdom known as Fungi and are different from plants and animals, although they are biologically more similar to animals. This kingdom includes molds and yeasts as well as what we call “mushrooms”. In many languages mushroom names are linked to toads or frogs because they are found in damp, dark places, hence the term “toadstool”.
Mushrooms, also called microfungi, are the visible fruiting bodies of fungi. They live in a medium such as the forest floor or on host organisms. The non-fruiting part of fungi is called mycelia, and while mushrooms have unique visible characteristics, most mycelia are white and look the same to the naked eye.
There are three main life styles of fungi:
- Symbiotic: as the name suggests, these live in mutually beneficial association with other organisms. Mycorrhizal fungi transport nitrogen and phosphorus to a plant and receive carbohydrates in exchange. An example is the Oregon White Truffle.
- Parasitic: these fungi feed off live host organisms. The fungi benefit, but the host loses out. An example is the common Honey Mushroom.
- Saprotrophic: this group of fungi helps decompose dead organic matter. A local example is the Oyster Mushroom. Without this type of fungi, our planet would be uninhabitable because of the buildup of dead organic matter and remains.
People who study fungi are called mycologists. Those who collect mushrooms for food are known as mycophagists.
“Mycology beats urology any day” – Bryce Kendrick
There are estimated to be some 18,000 species of fungi in British Columbia, with just over 3420 macrofungi recorded so far. Here on Mayne Island, our 2019 Bioblitz recorded over 25 species and at last year’s Mushroom Extravaganza, Vancouver mycologists Paul Kroeger and Sharmin Gamiet identified 50 different mushroom species. Worldwide, it is thought there may be more undiscovered species of fungi than those already known. Because the number of fungal species in a given area tends to exceed the number of plant species by a ratio of 6 to 1, and there are about 3000 plant species known in B.C., it is estimated that about 18,000 fungal species live here.
In Oregon there is a Honey Mushroom that is more than 2400 years old and covers an estimated 2200 acres underground. This is the largest living organism on the planet today. Many mushrooms such as Marasmius oreades create a shape called a “fairy ring”, a circle of fruiting bodies which get larger each year as the mycelia mature.
Apparently, the Death Cap Mushroom tastes quite delicious until …
There are over 30 species of fungi that glow in the dark through a chemical reaction known as Bioluminesence. A local example is the aptly named Western Jack-o-lantern mushroom.
During this season of Halloween and zombies, you might want to check out videos of Cordyceps, a parasitic fungi who destroy their victims in the most blood-curdling and brutal way. They take over their host and devour its innards whilst it is still alive, finally bursting through the unsuspecting insect’s shell to spread their spores far and wide. Bizarrely, Cordyceps are sold as a health food product that “possesses free radical scavenging properties”! At the time of this writing, no known Cordyceps have been found on Mayne Island.
On a more serious note, 2019 was a record year in BC for mushroom poisoning. This was largely due to the spread of the tasty Death Cap. There are approximately 250 known poisonous mushroom species in B.C. Reports of adverse reactions after consuming commercially marketed wild mushrooms are not uncommon. Many mushrooms like Morels are toxic unless cooked, and some people have negative reactions to species considered edible.
Harvesting wild mushrooms is prohibited in all levels of parks in Canada and on First Nations land. If you choose to harvest mushrooms on private land, only do so in the company of an expert and harvest only those you are absolutely certain are safe to eat. For more information on poisonous mushrooms in B.C. please visit: https://www.zoology.ubc.ca/~biodiv/mushroom/
Below are photos of local LBM or “Little Brown Mushroom” species, all of which can be found on Mayne Island. One is a Psilocybe (Magic Mushroom), and the other two are Galerinas (Death Bells) which would be fatal if ingested. Can you tell the difference? Be very wary of LBMs …
Article submitted by Nancy Gibson with our thanks to Paul Kroeger for providing the information.