Sunday, September 29, 2013

Animal, vegetable, or fungus?

One of the joys of living in Massachusetts is being able to attend field schools offered by the Massachusetts Audubon Society at their Welflleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.  I've reported on some of these before and am pleased to do so again, after a two-day session led by Wesley Price, who, among other things, has organized the Cape Cod Mushroom Club.  Our diverse group of participants was introduced to the many aspects of this field, ranging from the ecological powerhouse represented by this part of the fungus kingdom (distinct from plants, animals, protista, and bacteria) to the details of structure and design of the most common genera.

Wesley is assiduous about documenting the location and setting of his finds.  After just a short time together in the forest, our eyes became trained, and we noticed mushrooms that we would have easily passed by previously.  Below is a pretty Amanita that I found growing among the bearberries.  Some varieties of edible and some are deadly poisonous, including one version that will kill your liver and require you to get a transplant to survive.  Wesley's practice and advise with regard to this genus:  Don't eat any of them.  There are very subtle differences between the good and bad ones, and his view is that it is just not worth the risk.

But then there are the Matsutaki mushrooms, a highly sought after variety, especially in Japan.  They are a bit harder to find, usually hidden under a clump of pine needles or other plant detritus.

At this time of year on Cape Cod, you will often find people of Russian or Eastern European descent searching for Boletes.  Unlike the amanitas, these do not have gills, but rather spongelike tubes and pores.

This sample was taken up with a chunk of the mycelium attached.  This is the major part of the fungus, a network of thin connectors spread throughout the soil.  Indeed, the mushroom that we see is the fruit of the mycelium, which erupts with the sole purpose of spreading spores into the environment to spread the fungus.  The mycelium is often found as a mycorrhizal, a symbiotic relationship with tree roots and other roots under ground, intertwined and helping the plant get moisture and nutrients form the soil.

We were also joined on this class by entomologist Hannah Nadel, Supervisory Entomologist at the US Department of Agriculture Otis Laboratory, who was able to present us with lots of information about the relationships between insects and fungi.

And, in anticipation of your final question, yes, we ate some.  Here was this morning's breakfast, some Cortinarius caperatus, commonly known as gypsy mushrooms, being readied to be sauteed and then served with polenta and avocado.


1 comment:

Brad said...

Poisonous mushrooms: serious illnesses, foraging on the rise