I went to the annual Puget Sound Mycological Society Wild Mushroom Show today. It’s still going on tomorrow and I highly recommend checking it out.
I knew it would be interesting, but had no idea how impressively well-done it would be. The main room is full of tables of beautifully laid out specimens organized by genus and labeled by species. The tags are color-coded by edibility.
There are also mushroom-identifying specialists willing to examine specimens visitors have collected from the woods, kids’ activities, a cooking demonstration (with samples) lectures on topics like mushroom sex, vendors, and explanations of different uses of mushrooms (check out the gorgeously-dyed green sweaters and shawls done with local mushrooms, and the hat made of mushrooms!).
If you go, make sure to listen to the trained identifiers/mycologists from PSMS. I tagged along listening to Hildegard Hendrickson talk about interesting species from the display table, and how to identify them. Her crowd grew and grew, everyone engrossed.
I also spent nearly an hour listening at the mushroom identifying table. An attendee had brought in an entire garbage bag full of carefully-separated specimens. He was showing them to chief identifier Brian Luther, who patiently went through each specimen and identified it, talking about its characteristics and edibility. Another full-fledged identifier, who also happens to be a seven year old boy, helped label all of them. I don’t call him an identifier in a tongue-in-cheek way; this kid actually knows thousands of varieties’ Latin names (and how to spell them) and is quite good. I asked him about his skill once on a field trip and he shrugged and said he’d been learning since he was about three years old.
If you bring samples to a mycologist for identification, always make sure you take the entire sample, including the part in the ground, rather than cutting the stem. In many cases, a mycologist must look at the entire specimen for an accurate identification. Also make sure samples are kept separate by variety so they don’t contaminate one another, e.g. in brown paper bags, separate baskets, or separate pieces of aluminum foil. If possible, remember where you found it: on or under what kind of tree? In grass? In woods? Near woods? On wood chips? In your crisper drawer in a bag labeled Whole Foods? Etc.
And, of course, never EVER eat a wild mushroom you’ve picked whose identity you don’t know 100% or which a mycologist has not identified. There are many look-alike mushrooms in the Northwest and beyond that can either kill you or make you wish you were dead. Also, species differ from region to region and continent to continent, so don’t assume your knowledge from another place applies here. For instance, I learned today that in the Northwest, the parasite that makes a lobster mushroom (which is actually a parasitization of another species) only attacks mushrooms on which the parasite will result in a non-poisonous mushroom (although I think I’ve heard that some are more tasty than others). However, apparently in some other regions of the country, lobster mushroom parasite can attack poisonous mushrooms, and thus it’s better not to eat any lobster mushrooms in those regions.
So much to learn, and not a topic to take lightly. But so very, very cool.
Check it out tomorrow. Link is above.