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Morning Sun
  • Down to Earth: Mushroom hunting through the forest

  • One recent crisp and sunny Sunday in fall, with baskets in hand and an eye for fungi, both culinary enthusiasts and the curious headed out to Cormer Woods farmstead in Uxbridge, Mass., to hunt for mushrooms.

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  • One recent crisp and sunny Sunday in fall, with baskets in hand and an eye for fungi, both culinary enthusiasts and the curious headed out to Cormer Woods farmstead in Uxbridge, Mass., to hunt for mushrooms.
    The mission was to find a variety of fungi to bring back and identify. Nearly 50 people gathered at the 175-acre idyllic Trustees of Reservations site, where the Boston Mycological Club had organized the "Mushroom Foray" event.
    To the untrained eye, the mushrooms were not obviously abundant in the forest and fields, but there were many "ooohs" and "aaahs" as a result of the finds on rotting logs and under damp leaves. One forager exclaimed, "an Armillaria mellea!" It is also called a honey mushroom, an edible variety.
    At night, this species can produce an eerie glow in the woods with bioluminescence, called foxfire or fairy fire. Jason Karakehian, a BMC member, said that honey mushrooms taste like shitake mushrooms, but he warned to only eat one and wait several hours to see if you feel sick, because although they are edible, some people are intolerant of them. He also said never to eat a mushroom until it has been positively identified by an expert because there are poisonous mushrooms.
    One person gasped, "A Destroying Angel!" Karakehian said it was an Amanita bisporigera: a deadly, poisonous species. He said you could touch it, but don’t eat it.
    When everyone met near the barn at noon to share their finds, I was surprised to see the hundreds of mushrooms that were collected: purple, red, green, brown and white, some as small as a pin, others with caps as large as a small Frisbee. The fungi were divided into three groups: gills under the cap; pores under the cap; and miscellaneous fungi that did not have the stem and cap like a typical mushroom.
    There was a "white coral" mushroom that looked just like its name implied. Another interesting find was the slimy "lobster claw" stinkhorn, Pseudocolus fusiformis, which many people lined up to sniff as it carries the hideous odor of carrion.
    Mushrooms have had a mythical folklore through time, but they also have real world benefits for humans, the environment and the economy. Clark University biology Professor David Hibbitt explained a promising study he was working on in which fungal enzymes might be used to help generate biofuels. Biofuels are among the most attractive alternatives to fossil fuels for powering vehicles.
    Anne Pringle, a professor of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard Univeristy, emphasized the importance of fungi in conservation biology. "As any gardener will tell you, digging out and destroying tree stumps and dead shrubbery is hard work. Fungi do that work for you, rotting wood and breaking apart tough debris. ... In a forest, the fungi make room for other plants to grow."
    Page 2 of 2 - It is estimated that there are between 1.5 million and 5 million fungi species. They perform essential ecological roles that include decomposing organisms and serving as food for many insect species and larger organisms and offer application in agriculture, medicine and drug discovery. Pringle noted the general public is often concerned about the cuddly panda, but not the underappreciated fungi.
    The largest fungus on earth may possibly be one in Oregon fondly called the "humongous fungus." It grows mostly underground, encompassing nearly four square miles. It is a type of honey mushroom Armillaria ostoyae and believed to be at least 2,400 years old.
    To learn more about fungi visit www.bostonmycologicalclub.org.
     
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