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mushroom hunting, cultivation, mycoremediation, and nature journalism
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Radical Mycology’s long time friend, Pat Rasmussen with Edible Forest Gardens in Olympia, made an incredible amateur mycological discovery the other day. Pat regularly installs perennial gardens in the Olympia area, often with the Elm Oyster mushroom (Hypsizygus ulmarius) as a potential companion for the plants. But when a local big-name mushroom farm accidentally sent her the wrong kit, she ended up installing the Nameko mushroom (Pholiota nameko) instead. 5 months later, the result were incredible. The perennial Aronia plants (similar to blueberries) planted in the area with the mushroom bed grew over twice as large as those plants grown without the mushroom companion. And the grape plants in the area did much better as well. As with all great scientific discoveries, this accident leads to a new realm of exploration in the field of plant companioning.
Why do some decomposing fungi help plants grow? The answer isn’t clear. In the book Mycelium Running, Paul Stamets worked with a research student to determine whether specific saprotrophic mushrooms would be beneficial to certain food plants if grown in proximity. After a season of growth and various plant and mushroom pairings, a few strong results surfaced. Notably, the Elm Oyster was found to dramatically increase Brassica plant growth and yield, while other pairings (such as normal Oyster mushrooms [Pleurotus spp.] paired with Brassicas) were shown to actually be detrimental to the plants. The exact reason for this is unknown. As both these mushroom species are aggressive decomposers, it can’t simply be the nutrient and carbon dioxide release. Perhaps specific enzymes being released by the Elm Oyster works to stimulate the Brassica plant’s roots or supports the soil flora. Chances are, there might be many more beneficial plant-mushrooms pairings that have yet to be discovered.
Pat’s accidental discovery is notable for 3 main reasons: 1) the Nameko mushroom has not been previously cited as a known food plant companion, 2) the dramatic results from pairing this decomposing fungus (as opposed to a mycorrhizal fungus) with a perennial plant is interesting as most better known plant-(decomposing) mushroom companionings (such as the Elm Oyster with Brassicas) are often done with annual plants and 3) Pat is an amateur mycologist! As mycology is such a young field, new discoveries are made all the time, especially by non-professionals or academics. By adding to the world of mycological knowledge, Pat is taking part in the citizen science aspect of mycology. While this pairing should be further tested to determine true efficacy, this is exactly the kind of exciting discovery we support and are inspired by at Radical Mycology. Kinda makes you wanna go play with mushrooms.
I met Alex Milan Tracy at the Radical Mycology Convergence 2012 last week. He was documenting the event. This is a great short he put together which sums up the experience quite well. I’m also interviewed toward the end (heehee!) Enjoy!
Tues, Oct 23, 2012, reflections on the event: Hey myco-folk! I’ve just returned from the Radical Mycology Convergence in Port Townsend, WA and am hanging out in Seattle drinking coffee. I’ll be back in California later today to soak in the warm San Francisco culture.
First off, what was the Radical Mycology Convergence? Over two hundred myco-minded individuals congregated to the northeastern point of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula for a five day conference in Port Townsend to discuss mycology, remediation, and ecology. Visitors from coast to coast shared knowledge in mushroom cultivation, bioremediation, farming, medicinal mushrooms, event organization, and many other stimulating subjects! This was the second annual Radical Mycology Convergence, and the organizers are interested in expanding next year’s convergence to cater to a larger number of individuals. The location is yet to be decided.
Port Townsend was cold and sometimes wet, but spirits were high and excited. The cost for attendees was based on a sliding scale. Attending the event did not require paying a specific fee, and the organizers asked only for a donation of $10-50.
(Attendees wait in line for mid-day lunch break. Yummy food was provided three times a day for all attendees)
One of the intentions of the convergence was to empower and educate other individuals who are interested in creating their own convergence or mycology group in other parts of the country. Using a mycological metaphor, we became spores of knowledge intending to spread across the land and establish our own mycelial networks.
The Radical Mycology Convergence was a complete success, and from talking to the organizers, I’m convinced they felt the same way. I want to thank the organizers and all the presenters for assisting me with my recordings of the RMC workshops and with impromptu interviews. The organizers established a place for all of us to camp, fed us hot, healthy food at least three times a day, and provided yerba mate, coffee, and gallons of mushroom tea!
To all those with whom I shared a connection, I hope to see you blossom in your future. Please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org and spread that mycelial network.
Personal notes: I was surprised at the amount of people who were interested in a resource for further documentation of events like these. I hope my audio and video documentation can be an endless resource for all who attended and for those who could not attend. Because of the number of workshops held at RMC2012, several workshops were held at one time. I did my best to record the workshops which I felt both piqued my visitors’ interests, and as a springboard for my own future investigations and endeavors.
Here is a quick list of workshops and interviews I documented:
On what I learned: I’ve always felt the community of myco-minded folk are the most eclectic, diverse, interesting, and intellectual of all communities of which I’ve been a part. These feelings concerning this community were confirmed after this event. RMC2012 drew together scientists working on their doctorates, curious-minded folk just out of high school, urban foragers, college students working toward a more environmentally friendly future, and urban and rural farmers, young and senior, to name a few. Everyone connected and gained from one another. The mycology community is extremely generous, and I want to thank everyone for their endless hospitality and generosity.
I also learned that understanding mycology is just a small, itty-bitty piece of a much larger puzzle toward understanding our natural world, and especially understanding bioremediation. After RMC2012, I’m interested in learning more about bacteria, soil, composting, and a host of other branches that belong to the larger ecological issues. The presentation I documented on bioremediation by Leila Darwish will reveal a more extended list of skills and knowledge to be gained.
On a separate, but related endeavor: Another subject that came up during RMC2012 was the need for a central online location of documenting hands-on do-it-yourself bioremediation techniques, case studies and anecdotes of the effects of medicinal mushrooms, and an index and central resource for remediation and cultivation techniques, and a wiki to boot. I’m excited to be part of a project which will hopefully become an invaluable resource for earth-friendly folk across our planet.
Mycoporn: A retired Lycoperdon perlatum, Gemmed Puffball. After maturing, this specimen ejects spores from a central chute.
(Olympic National Park, Washington, November 3, 2011)
Mycoporn: A beautiful and edible Porcini, Boletus edulis, found while out riding made a superb dinner!
(Olympic National Park, Washington, September 29, 2011)
Mycoporn, on cultivation: The mycelium of Coprinus comatus, Shaggy Mane, expands across agar in a petri plate. Somebody brought a fresh specimen of Shaggy Mane into the San Diego Fungus Fair, held by the San Diego Mycological Society. When the fair ended, I took the specimen home, cut into it and placed a chunk on this agar, cloning it.
(San Diego, California, March 29, 2011)
(Seattle, Washington, October 16, 2011)
Mycoporn: The white reticulation of the magnificent and delicious Porcini, Boletus edulis.
(Olympic National Park, Washington, October 10, 2011)
Mycoporn: In the first photograph, the Blewit, Clitocybe nuda, is a tasty dinner treat. It grows from decaying leaf litter and can be found in many habitats that have any form of decaying organic plant matter. Its lustrous purple cap, purple gills, and lack of veil or volva are some of its characteristics. As well, it remains purple when sliced and cooked. Some describe its scent as “frozen orange-juice concentrate.” Blewits create a light white to pale pink spore print. (How to make a spore print.)
There are some purple look-alikes, notably poisonous Cortinarius species, as illustrated in the second two photographs. The most alarming trait of a Cortinarius species is its spider-web like veil, or “cortina.” Unlike Blewits, Cortinarius species leave a rusty-brown spore print.
When in doubt, throw it out.
(First image: Laguna Mountains, California, January 4, 2011)
(Second image: San Juan Mountains, Colorado, August 17, 2011)
(Third image: Olympic National Park, Washington, September 29, 2011)
Mycoporn: A pinning yellow Fly Agaric, Amanita muscaria. The name comes from one of its traditional uses. Flies are attracted to milk; by steeping the mushroom in milk, the toxins in the mushroom will paralyze the flies when they drink from the milk, allowing you time to kill them!
(Olympic National Park, Washington, October 29, 2011)
Mycoporn: Latex drips from a Lactarius sp. found in Olympic National Park. Lactarius and Russula mushrooms generally look similar, yet Lactarius are differentiated by their ability to “lactate” a milky substance. Depending on the species, some bleed white, some blue, some orange, and others red. Notice how I sliced the mushroom to cause its reaction.
(Olympic National Park, Washington, November 11, 2011)
I’m going, I’m going, I’m going!
Radical Mycology Convergence, October 18-22, Port Townsend, Washington.
See you all there :)
Mycoporn: The delicate gills of Russula brevipes rise from its short base. Although emerging pale white, R. brevipes can bruise a tan brown. Its chalky stem will explode when thrown against a tree. Common in the fall in the Pacific Northwest, R. brevipes would be considered less than spectacular except for its very important role: it is one of two hosts that transform into the highly prized and delicious Lobster Mushroom, Hypomyces lactifluorum, via a parasitic mold. Links one, two, and three.
(Olympic National Park, Washington, October 10, 2011)
Mycoporn: A brilliant young cluster of Chicken-of-the-Woods, Laetiporus sulphureus, emerges from a felled tree. At this stage they are edible and delicious (with a caveat: few individuals have been known to react poorly to this mushroom, however their reaction could have been a result of the mushroom growing past the point of edibility). With a neon orange top and a bright-yellow pored bottom, they are easy to identify, and considered one of the safest for amateurs to explore. They are best picked while young and vibrant. Chicken-of-the-woods have no gills and grow solely from dead wood. They are often dressed and barbecued like chicken. I found this cluster on the Hoh Rain Forest Trail in the Olympic National Park, considered acoustically the quietest area of the lower forty-eight. It served my appetite well!
(Olympic National Park, Washington, October 9, 2011)
Mycoporn: Lobster Mushrooms, Hypomyces lactifluorum, sell for nearly $25/lb in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Lobster Mushrooms are especially delicious and especially rare. Their brilliant color is the result of a fungus growing on a developed mushroom, either a Lactarius or Russula mushroom. That’s right, two fungi in one! These mushrooms are considered mycorrhizal, meaning they grow symbiotically with trees. They can’t be cultivated (at least not yet).
(Seattle, Washington, September 2, 2011)
Mycoporn: Daniel Winkler discusses the amazing variety of mushrooms at the 2011 Wild Mushroom Show sponsored by the Puget Sound Mycological Society in Seattle. Daniel Winkler is best known for his studies on Tibetan foraging of Cordyceps sinensis, ”Caterpillar Fungus,” which literally grow from caterpillars. C. sinensis is highly medicinal and highly valued, too, selling for extremely high prices at auctions and marketplaces. I met Daniel Winkler when he came to the San Diego Mycological Society to give a lecture on Cordyceps sinensis. He gave me the first wild mushroom I ever ate, the "Blewit," Clitocybe nuda, after we went foraging in the Laguna Mountains of San Diego. Thanks Daniel!
(Seattle, Washington, October 16, 2011)