Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Issue 6, May 2006

Those who were unable to attend the April 1st gathering missed a very interesting and informative meeting. Dominique shared about a few of the most common spring mushrooms found on the Kenai Peninsula and I gave a PowerPoint presentation on Verpas, Morels, Helvellas, Gyromitras and Other Spring Mushrooms.

Following the presentation, Dan Brady gave us an update on the cultivation project. Several of those who had used their plugs to inoculate sterilized sawdust and grain in quart jars, brought their jars to the meeting. It some cases the growth of mycelium in the jars was phenomenal! Dan explained the steps necessary to either bring those jars to fruition or use the colonized material to inoculate other growth mediums.

We also discussed the importance of establishing various committees to take the oversight of our club projects and activities. I was encouraged by the enthusiastic response! There was a lot of interest and willingness to participate.

Our May meeting will be devoted to organizing these committees. This should be a healthy step forward for our club, as the more people that are involved and the broader our interest base, the greater the potential to become a successful and enduring organization.

(We reached an important milestone at our last meeting – we now have over one hundred members!)

We closed our meeting with a discussion of the upcoming June foray and our summer and fall foray agenda. The following is an E-mail I received from Dominique (which he asked that I would share with the rest of the club members). In addition to expressing his encouragement with the progress of our club, he addresses the foray schedule.

(I would like to say that we are very fortunate to have someone with his expertise among us. He is a tremendous asset to our club, and with out his knowledge and experience, we would be greatly handicapped.)
Hello Shroomers,

We had a busy meeting Saturday. I was impressed by the fungi cultivation results. After only a month, it is very encouraging! I opted for the slow method and my logs are still sitting in my shop's sink. I water the base at regular intervals, but there is not much white stuff showing, yet. The great results at the meeting might lead some of us considering growing the fungi commercially, locally. That would be a plus for all of us!

Toward the end of the meeting, we talked about organizing several forays in the Kenai lowlands, near Seward, in the lush coastal forest, and in the sub-alpine area of Cooper Lake. We also talked about fungi displays at the Ninilchik fair, at the Kenai River festival, and possibly one stand alone, organized after one of the forays. Summer is a busy time, kind of frantic at times, especially when the fish are running! We will hammer out details at the meeting in May. This likely will be the last indoor meeting until the end of the growing season.

I will personally guide several hikes this summer, beside the forays. One of them will be a hike up Colorado Creek trail, near Summit lodge. We will look at both the fauna and flora, including fungi. It will likely be Saturday July 8 or Sunday July 9. I will also lead a willow identification workshop in the Soldotna area on July 16, (meeting place to be announced).

Tim Smith offered to help begin and maintain the club fungi collection. Keeping a fungi collection (herbarium) is important step in documenting the species that occur in the area. The collection allows us to have a specialist examine the specimens at a later date and verify our identifications. The duties include writing down the information regarding the collection of the fungi, filling out a description sheet, taking spore prints during the forays, taking photographs of the fungi (or collecting photo-graphs taken by others, drying the specimen and making sure that the collection information, the written description, the photographs and the specimens stay together. I would like to see one or two more persons volunteer for this responsibility. It is not required that you know fungi to do this, but this is the best way to learn to identify them. We will have a short training session for those interested during which we will discuss the method. If you are interested in volunteering for the club fungi collection project, E-mail me at
gastrancitrus@yahoo.com. --Dominique

A little mushroom trivia –

Have you ever eaten huitlacoche? If you haven’t already guessed, it is a fungus. Its scientific name is Ustilago maydis, but those of us who grew up in the Midwest knew it as corn smut (and would never have believed that it could be food!). It does have a more respectable common name: the Mexican corn truffle. South of the border it is considered a delicacy and fresh ears with the fungal growth bring a much higher price than the common ones. It is harvested when the kernels are large and gray (but still firm). The Mexicans use it in salsas, soups and even make it into an ice cream dish. For those who haven’t eaten it, the flavor is about what you would expect, a mixture or sweet corn and mushrooms (similar to the flavor of an agaricus with a hint of chocolate). Avoid the canned stuff. I was given a can several years ago. The product was not only nearly tasteless, but the texture (a mixture similar to sawdust in slime) was awful.

Here is some fungal humor from Red Skelton-

Question: If the sun rises in the east, where does bread rise?

Answer: In the yeast, of course!

Since our last meeting, I have spent some time on the Internet researching what activities and programs other clubs have felt to be important. I have also contacted a few folks I know personally from large clubs which have been in existence for many years. Here is a summary of what I found.

The number of committees and their structure vary greatly from group to group. As you would suspect, the larger clubs typically have a greater variety of committees. Some smaller clubs simply divide their endeavors into ‘projects’ and ‘activities’ with these two committees embracing a number of sub-committees. (The projects committee, for example, might include sub-committees responsible for producing a club cookbook or supervising a cultivation project, while the activities committee might organize a foray.)

Though the committees names may vary from club to club, the list of committees that follows are those typically found in most large clubs.

1. An Education Committee which provides instructional opportunities both to the club members and the community. This might include presentations at club meetings, additional classes for new members, presentations before community schools or home school groups, booths at fairs or festivals, etc.

2. A Collection Records Committee whose responsibility would be to keep complete and accurate records of all mushroom species collected at forays or by club members, verifying their identification and maintain the club herbarium.

3. A Library and Resource Committee would maintain the club’s library of books, videos, identification keys and other miscellaneous resources, and handle book orders and sales to club members.

4. A Correspondence Committee would handle the day to day correspondence as well as prepare the monthly newsletter and maintain the club website.

5. A Foray and Workshop Committee is needed to organize all aspects of the forays (dates, locations, activities, group leaders, identifiers, guest mycologists and botanists, etc.) and field workshops.

6. A Toxicology Committee would provide medical personnel and veterinarians with technical resources and ‘on call’ expertise for identifying mushroom species and mushroom toxins.

7. A Cultivation Committee would plan club cultivation projects, assist with their implementation through ‘hands-on’ instruction and follow-up, and report back to the club on their successes.

8. A Culinary (or Mycophagy) Committee would organize and oversee all club sponsored picnics, potlucks, banquets, etc. (Other activities might include providing refreshments for the meetings or collecting favorite mushroom recipes and producing a club cookbook.)

9. Some clubs have Photography Committees that takes photos of all club events, supplies photos for the newsletter and website and maintains an album. These photo albums are often online sites that can be accessed via the net by anyone with a computer.

10. Hospitality Committees are of a fairly recent origin and were formed in an effort to address a common problem among older clubs; the failure to attract new members. Even with an interest in mushrooming, it can be very intimidating for a novice to enter into a group of experienced mushroomers.

It is the task of the Hospitality Committee to identify the new faces at the club meetings, find out who they are, what their interests are, answer any questions they may have, make them aware of what the club can offer them and make them feel welcome.

It is a well documented fact that the most successful clubs in terms of membership and long standing are those with the greatest member participation.

If you are a club member and have an interest or aptitude in any of these areas, we welcome your involvement. I know that there are a lot of gifted folks, with a diversity of experience and abilities on the membership rolls. We would very much like you to share your talents with us.

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The 2006 NAMA (North American Mycological Association) Foray will be held in Hinton, Alberta, August 17-20. Details and a registration form can be found in the NAMA website at www.namyco.org.

The Edmonton Mycological Society will act as host and Dr. Markus Thormann will be one of the presenters and identifiers. It would be a great opportunity for you to meet ‘shroomers’ from all across the U.S. and Canada and a tremendous learning experience!

One of our long-term goals for KPMS is to host an annual NAMA foray on the Kenai Peninsula. They did hold their annual foray in the Anchorage area several years ago. I have spoken with a number of folks from NAMA who participated in that foray. They tell me that they would very much like to see one here on the Kenai Peninsula.

As I was looking out my living room window today and marveling at how fast the snow was melting, I began to think back to what my lawn was like last summer. I remember it as a mixture of humps and holes, sprinkled with a number of different grasses, moss and mushrooms. My home in Soldotna is on a lot that borders the Catholic Church and the thirteen wooded acres they own. Consequently my lawn is also a maze of intertwined tree roots. I know I could have a better lawn, but I would have to fight Mother Nature tooth and nail to achieve it! Besides, I’m new to Alaska and want to fit in. Mine is the typical Alaskan yard.

I think that is why I enjoy the comment I hear most often from people who discover I know something about mushrooms. “I have mushrooms growing in my yard” they say. “Are they edible?” Sure they have a lawn full of mushrooms. Who doesn’t? The only way to avoid it is to pour on the poisons. Eventually, if you are persistent and patient, you will kill off everything but the grass (with the added bonus that your yard will someday qualify as a superfund cleanup site).

However, it is really not their confession that grabs my attention, but their question. Of course, there is no way I can answer that question. When I ask for a description, the usual answer is something like ‘big and brown’ or ‘tall and white’. They really don’t have a clue what I’m saying when I ask about spore color, gill attachment or stature type. Most can’t even tell me with confidence whether their mushroom has tubes or gills. It could potentially be any of a thousand species.

I have found that the best thing I can do is to tell them about the mushrooms that grow on my lawn and hope that something I describe rings a bell. My spiel goes something like this, “Yeah, I know what you mean. Mushrooms everywhere. You’ve probably got the same ones growing in your yard that I have.” Then, from that point, I am off and running!

“I have the usual assortment of puffballs, Lycoperdon perlatum and L. pyriforme. These are edible if you are sure that you haven’t confused them with one of the thick skinned Scleroderma species like Scleroderma citrinum.

Last summer there was a bumper crop of Agaricus arvensis. They weren’t actually growing on my lawn, but just across the fence on the church property. I’m sure that their mycelium was in my yard, so I exercised my right of (at least partial) ownership and picked them. This is a good edible species with a large, white cap and pleasant anise odor.

I had expected to find a Marasmius oreades ‘fairy ring’ in my lawn, but none appeared. I’m sure that I have seen them growing in Soldotna. They do best on fertilized, well manicured lawns. That may be why they didn’t turn up in mine. They’re a good edible species if gathered from a lawn free of herbicide, pesticide and fertilizer residues.

I did find a couple of boletes in my yard, but they were not the coveted king bolete, Boletus Edulis. My boletes had been parasitized by another fungus, Hypomyces chrysospermus and looked like moldy mushrooms. I did find plenty of king boletes on a vacant lot not far from my house.

I didn’t have any of the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Amanita muscaria in my lawn, either. I saw them in several of my neighbor’s yards, admired their beauty and wondered why I had been so fortunate.

But, I did have a large ‘fairy ring’ of Clitocybe dealbata caps, pounds and pounds of this poisonous pest. C. dealbata (like Amanita muscaria) contains muscarine, which produces profuse sweating, severe nausea and other unpleasant poisoning symptoms.

I had expected to find Hebeloma crustuliniforme growing on my lawn along with the Clitocybe dealbata. ‘Poison Pie’ (as it is affectionately known) often fruits with C. dealbata. But, my loss was my neighbor’s gain. He had a bumper crop of this Hebeloma. H. crustuliniforme is a ‘fairy ring’ mushroom with a distinct radish odor.

Just about every lawn also has a few bell-shaped Conocybes. They like the warmest part of the summer and fruit in greatest abundance after a warm rain or on well watered lawns. They often appear early in the morning and have shriveled by late afternoon. I am not absolutely sure which species grow in my yard. There are at least sixteen western species and can be devilishly hard to tell apart. My guess would be that the brown species is Conocybe tenera (or one of the C. tenera group) and the white one, Conocybe lactea.

I’m sure that if I gave it more thought, I could think of other species that I found growing in my yard. But, the sad reality is that though I had a lot of fungus, I really didn’t have much that even remotely resembled food.”

I try to keep my mouth shut and not say too much about the thirteen wooded acres next door. What grows there? Now, that is another story!

Just a reminder- If you have anything you would like to submit for publication in the newsletter, please contact us. This is OUR newsletter and we need YOUR input.

Don’t forget to check out our website at http://kpms.blogspot.com.


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In a recent issue of The Mycophile there was an interesting article by Bob Sommer on the frequency of occurrence for a particular letter of the alphabet to be the first letter in a genus name. He found that over half of all the names of the various mushroom genera started with one of five letters, C, P, A, L or S. (The percentages used in the cartoon above are the actual numbers.)

At first glance, you might assume that this was some oddity restricted to the field of mycology. (After all, those mycologists are a peculiar bunch.) But this conundrum has a much simpler solution than that. (If I had received a better education, especially in the classical languages, I wouldn’t have had to read through the whole article waiting for Bob to give me the answer.) It turns out (to quote Bob Sommer) that “Mushroom taxonomists tend to choose technical names according to word frequencies in the Latin language. Letters most often used to start Latin words are also most likely to become genus names for fungi.”

So, what do you do with this valuable bit of trivia? Next time you are out in the woods with someone you are hoping to impress with your knowledge of fungi and happen to stumble upon a mushroom you can’t identify (who doesn’t have this happen to them?), pick a name that starts with C or P. The odds are in your favor, and you just might get lucky.

Our next meeting is May 6th at the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Building, 40610 K-Beach Road. We hope to see you there.

The snow is going fast, the nights are warming and the days are longer. Mushroom season is not far away! Happy hunting,