Wet weather, later frost extends mushroom season

Retired UNBC professor Massicotte says 2020 has been one of the best years ever for fungi foragers

If you thought last year was good for mushrooms around Prince George, after one of the coolest, rainiest summers on record, this year might rival 2019 for its fungi feast.
You don't have to look hard to find them growing on lawns, under trees or even on cow patties; mushrooms seem to spring up overnight. Some are tiny, some are massive, and they display themselves in a kaleidoscope of colours, from lobster red to deep purple.
And like humans trying to grow vegetable gardens, slugs are a mushroom's worst enemy. They eat and destroy them, much like they do our beans, potatoes and marigolds. The rain that seems to come every few days in Prince George brings the moisture that nurtures the fungal spores and mycelium in the soil, but it also makes slugs thrive.
"This was an extraordinary mushroom season, probably on par with the best ones we have ever seen, but the slugs were uninvited guests," said local mushroom expert Hugues Massicotte, who retired this year from UNBC, where he taught in the Ecosystem Science and Management Program for 26 years.
"The constant moisture and the late frost have made it a remarkable year. When we talked about the prognostics in July, we thought it would be a good season but I think it has surpassed our expectations because we haven't had a killer frost yet. I hadn't anticipated it would also be such a good summer for slugs! Because of the profusion of slugs this year, it is likely that when you find mushroom clusters, you find the slugs already at work on them!"
In north central B.C., the mushroom season usually starts in mid-August and ends by late-September, but with rain the past couple days and a lengthy stretch of unseasonably warm weather coming later this week, mushroom hunters should have much to look forward to as October begins. The short mushroom season provides a small window of opportunity for scientists like Massicotte to make new discoveries; he continues to see new specimens, like the basketball-sized Ramaria coral mushrooms he located last week growing on a pile of wood chips in the front garden of the UNBC campus.

"In Prince George, you don't have much time, you have about three weeks to a month to explore, and then the frost comes and you have to wait another year," Massicotte said. "The coral mushroom in the chip pile is absolutely phenomenal, growing to an extraordinary extent. I've never seen anything like it."
Unlocking the mysteries of mushrooms is a challenge even for Massicotte, who became interested in mycology (the study of fungi) after taking a course that involved collecting mushrooms during his undergraduate forestry studies at the Université Laval in Quebec city. He earned his graduate degrees at the U. of Guelph, focusing on the interactions between symbiotic mycorrhizal fungi and tree roots and then went on to 5 ½ years of postdoctoral fungi-related studies in Oregon, Sweden and at UBC.
"Fungi are crucial to any ecosystem on the planet: many will help plants and grass to grow, many are pathogens, and many more still are key to decomposition in all habitats”, Massicotte said.
Moist and shady areas at the Otway Nordic Centre, Pidherny Recreation Area, Aleza Lake Forest, Forests For the World, Wilkins Park and The Ancient Forest provide ideal habitats and offer a wide diversity of fungi for scientists like Massicotte. When people learn he is a mushroom expert, the question of how to distinguish edible types from the poisonous kind often comes up.
"The joke, when we teach, is you can always eat the mushroom once," laughed Massicotte. “On a more serious note though, when I do a lecture on edibles, I couple it right away with a lecture on the poisonous ones. Mushrooms produce extraordinary compounds that will impact very negatively our body, and can even be lethal. You might consume some and think everything is alright, then, hours to days later you start feeling really bad and it can be too late. Some compounds, like the amanitins, can inhibit critical enzymes in our cells, and the liver and kidneys can go into failure."
There's no simple way to distinguish mushrooms that make you sick from the good ones but Massicotte offers one general rule of thumb. "Often we say when there is a very bright colour, stay away from them," he said. "You need to be experienced to know the ones that are edible. When you consume those that are identified as ‘safe’, eat just a little amount the first time, because there's always the possibility you could be allergic."
Dr. Chow Lee, a biochemistry and molecular biology professor at UNBC, has been spearheading with Massicotte and mycologist colleague Dr. Keith Egger as well as organic chemists Drs. Kerry Reimer and Tina Bott a suite of studies to learn the effect of wild mushrooms on the body's immune system as well as how mushrooms could be applied to cancer research.
Morel mushrooms and their intense flavor are coveted by chefs all over the world and forests that have been burned by wildfires the previous year are ideal places to look for them. They also show up in ground that's been disturbed, often in cottonwood forests. Hedgehogs, chanterelles and Lactarius deliciosus (also known as saffron milk cap/red pine mushrooms) can also be found in the Prince George area and are great to eat. "This year, they're all over the place," said Massicotte. "My partner Linda is better than I am at finding them. We love going out walking in the woods but when we find fungal edibles, that's always a bonus.”
"Ten years ago, when we had a lot of dead trees killed by mountain pine beetles, there were sites that had been harvested prior to our visit, and there were carpets of morels; the disturbance of harvesting these trees and slash burns triggered a morel flush like I have never seen."
Although Massicotte is no longer teaching, one of his favourite former courses included mycology. He knows that under COVID 19, it would be a huge challenge to refine and upgrade the course with videos and photographs for virtual and remote presentation. He is certain he would miss the ‘real’ daily contacts with his students.
"In the fungi world it's always the wonderful mushroom specimens that catch people’s imagination, seeing where they grow, and the wonderful diversity that fungi represent. There is no end to their amazing architecture and sometimes they take your breath away."

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If you thought last year was good for mushrooms around Prince George, after one of the coolest, rainiest summers on record, this year might rival 2019 for its fungi feast.
You don't have to look hard to find them growing on lawns, under trees or even on cow patties; mushrooms seem to spring up overnight. Some are tiny, some are massive, and they display themselves in a kaleidoscope of colours, from lobster red to deep purple.
And like humans trying to grow vegetable gardens, slugs are a mushroom's worst enemy. They eat and destroy them, much like they do our beans, potatoes and marigolds. The rain that seems to come every few days in Prince George brings the moisture that nurtures the fungal spores and mycelium in the soil, but it also makes slugs thrive.
"This was an extraordinary mushroom season, probably on par with the best ones we have ever seen, but the slugs were uninvited guests," said local mushroom expert Hugues Massicotte, who retired this year from UNBC, where he taught in the Ecosystem Science and Management Program for 26 years.
"The constant moisture and the late frost have made it a remarkable year. When we talked about the prognostics in July, we thought it would be a good season but I think it has surpassed our expectations because we haven't had a killer frost yet. I hadn't anticipated it would also be such a good summer for slugs! Because of the profusion of slugs this year, it is likely that when you find mushroom clusters, you find the slugs already at work on them!"
In north central B.C., the mushroom season usually starts in mid-August and ends by late-September, but with rain the past couple days and a lengthy stretch of unseasonably warm weather coming later this week, mushroom hunters should have much to look forward to as October begins. The short mushroom season provides a small window of opportunity for scientists like Massicotte to make new discoveries; he continues to see new specimens, like the basketball-sized Ramaria coral mushrooms he located last week growing on a pile of wood chips in the front garden of the UNBC campus. "In Prince George, you don't have much time, you have about three weeks to a month to explore, and then the frost comes and you have to wait another year," Massicotte said. "The coral mushroom in the chip pile is absolutely phenomenal, growing to an extraordinary extent. I've never seen anything like it."
Unlocking the mysteries of mushrooms is a challenge even for Massicotte, who became interested in mycology (the study of fungi) after taking a course that involved collecting mushrooms during his undergraduate forestry studies at the Université Laval in Quebec city. He earned his graduate degrees at the U. of Guelph, focusing on the interactions between symbiotic mycorrhizal fungi and tree roots and then went on to 5 ½ years of postdoctoral fungi-related studies in Oregon, Sweden and at UBC.
"Fungi are crucial to any ecosystem on the planet: many will help plants and grass to grow, many are pathogens, and many more still are key to decomposition in all habitats”, Massicotte said.
Moist and shady areas at the Otway Nordic Centre, Pidherny Recreation Area, Aleza Lake Forest, Forests For the World, Wilkins Park and The Ancient Forest provide ideal habitats and offer a wide diversity of fungi for scientists like Massicotte. When people learn he is a mushroom expert, the question of how to distinguish edible types from the poisonous kind often comes up.
"The joke, when we teach, is you can always eat the mushroom once," laughed Massicotte. “On a more serious note though, when I do a lecture on edibles, I couple it right away with a lecture on the poisonous ones. Mushrooms produce extraordinary compounds that will impact very negatively our body, and can even be lethal. You might consume some and think everything is alright, then, hours to days later you start feeling really bad and it can be too late. Some compounds, like the amanitins, can inhibit critical enzymes in our cells, and the liver and kidneys can go into failure."
There's no simple way to distinguish mushrooms that make you sick from the good ones but Massicotte offers one general rule of thumb. "Often we say when there is a very bright colour, stay away from them," he said. "You need to be experienced to know the ones that are edible. When you consume those that are identified as ‘safe’, eat just a little amount the first time, because there's always the possibility you could be allergic."
Dr. Chow Lee, a biochemistry and molecular biology professor at UNBC, has been spearheading with Massicotte and mycologist colleague Dr. Keith Egger as well as organic chemists Drs. Kerry Reimer and Tina Bott a suite of studies to learn the effect of wild mushrooms on the body's immune system as well as how mushrooms could be applied to cancer research.
Morel mushrooms and their intense flavor are coveted by chefs all over the world and forests that have been burned by wildfires the previous year are ideal places to look for them. They also show up in ground that's been disturbed, often in cottonwood forests. Hedgehogs, chanterelles and Lactarius deliciosus (also known as saffron milk cap/red pine mushrooms) can also be found in the Prince George area and are great to eat. "This year, they're all over the place," said Massicotte. "My partner Linda is better than I am at finding them. We love going out walking in the woods but when we find fungal edibles, that's always a bonus.”
"Ten years ago, when we had a lot of dead trees killed by mountain pine beetles, there were sites that had been harvested prior to our visit, and there were carpets of morels; the disturbance of harvesting these trees and slash burns triggered a morel flush like I have never seen."
Although Massicotte is no longer teaching, one of his favourite former courses included mycology. He knows that under COVID 19, it would be a huge challenge to refine and upgrade the course with videos and photographs for virtual and remote presentation. He is certain he would miss the ‘real’ daily contacts with his students.
"In the fungi world it's always the wonderful mushroom specimens that catch people’s imagination, seeing where they grow, and the wonderful diversity that fungi represent. There is no end to their amazing architecture and sometimes they take your breath away."

 

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