Monday, January 21, 2013

Off the trail: mushroom hunting

From mycophobia to mycophilia: Americans are discovering their mushrooms. Over the last decades the interest in fungi and their fruiting bodies, known as mushrooms, is growing and the study of their biodiversity—mycodiversity, to get to the point—is advancing. Fungi have gained appreciation with respect to their critical and complex role in forest ecology based on mutualistic plant-fungal symbioses. Various species are recognized as superfood, medicinal mushrooms and also are rediscovered as a source for natural stains and dyes. The website by Michael Wood, a former president of the Mycological Society of San Francisco, is a great portal into mycological discoveries: fungi of California and beyond. Vicky and Tom Nauman's Morel Mania site at is dedicated to mushroom fests and to the collection of mushrooms in the wild, during competitions and hunts.

Want-to-be mushroom hobbyists can get a glimpse into the world of mushroom hunting championships through entertaining descriptions found in Chaper 1 “Forays and Festivals” of Eugenia Bone's mushroom-adventuring book, appropriately entitled Mycophilia [1]. She joined, for example, the annual Morel Breakfast, taking place in an apple orchard in New York west of the Hudson River, and the Illinois State Morel Mushroom Hunting Championship, held in 2007 in and around Henry, a small town on the Illinois River.
Mushroom gatherers typically don't hike & pick. They walk around in circles and, when they get close to their prey, they repose into attack mode without fear of snakes, ticks and thorns (page 4 in [1]):
As I [Eugenia Bone at the Morel Breakfast hunt] crawled under one tree, eyes narrowed to avoid scratching my corneas with twigs, I spotted one large brown morel. And then I saw her. Apple checked and undaunted by the thorns, her gray bun pulled askew by snapping branches, crawled an elderly lady from the opposite direction toward the very morel— the only morel—I'd spotted.

Indeed, the world of humans is as weird as the world of mushrooms!

[1: ] Eugenia Bone: Mycophilia— Revelations from the Weird World of Mushrooms. Rodale, New York, 2011.