Last Sunday I went on a fungi walk at the West Virginia Botanical Garden lead by WVU Professor of Mycology, Daniel G. Panaccione. Honestly, I haven’t used any of my fungi knowledge since plant pathology class years ago. It was nice to revisit subject…
As a disclaimer, organisms and materials in nature should be left in nature. Species live and thrive in their natural environments because they have adapted to them for thousands of years. Taking organisms away from their habitats, increases the risk of endangerment or extinction of small populations. We must protect nature by leaving it be and reminding others to not disturb it. The WVBG states “We would like to remind our visitors that we request no plant materials are removed from the WV Botanic Garden.”
The fall and spring are the best times to look for mushrooms. However, the weather here has been quite dry lately, so we didn’t see as many specimens as we would’ve liked. Most mushrooms we identified were wood rot fungi, in Ascomycota and Basidiomycota phyla. We need wood rot fungi to do the exceptionally difficult job of degrading the 2 most common organic molecules on earth: cellulose and lignin. Wood rot fungi produce organic matter for the soil, however they also kill trees.
White rot fungi metabolizes all parts of wood, cellulose and lignin. It comprises 80% of decay fungi. Trees with white rot gradually lose strength, while brown rot causes rapid strength loss and kills trees faster. Brown rot metabolizes only cellulose leaving lignin, or brown decayed wood, behind.
Two ectomycorrhizal symbiont fungi we found were Russula and Tricholoma. Trees provide sugar, while Russula mycorrhiza help trees uptake phosphorus.Some can bioaccumulate high levels of toxic metals from their environment.
The cordyceps fungi species are all endoparasitoids, with mainly insect and other arthropod hosts. This fungi is known for its ability to influence host behavior. I like to call it the “zombie ant fungi.”
The jack-o-lantern mushroom emits a very faint greenish bio-luminescent light.There are about 70 common species that do this, including foxfire. The glow is meant to attract spore spreading insects. To save energy, this reaction in the electron transport chain is on a circadian rhythm. It only turns on at night!
We saw some interesting organisms that weren’t fungi. Lichens are actually a fungi and algae symbiosis. They do no damage to their substrates. Monotropa uniflora, or indian pipe, is a rare parasitic plant that doesn’t produce chlorophyll. It gets it’s energy from trees by hosting tree mycorrhizal fungi. This relationship makes the plant a myco-heterotroph. We also saw beech drops, another parasitic plant that specifically taps into beech tree roots. None of these organisms are damaging to trees.
The fall is prime mushroom gathering time!!! A few people on the walk had gathered edible mushrooms before. It’s very important to ALWAYS CAREFULLY identify edible mushrooms. The foolproof four mushrooms: morels, puffballs, shaggy mane and chicken are easy to identify and have no poisonous lookalikes.
The chicken of the woods mushroom is found on dead or mature hardwood trees. The mushroom shouldn’t be consumed if found on locust, cypress, or conifer trees. It’s said to taste like chicken, and is a good source of fiber, protein, vitamin C, and vitamins B, D, and K. They are considered a delicacy and a vegan substitute for chicken!
Other common edible mushrooms talked about were: hen of the woods (said to be even tastier than chicken of the woods) and Chanterelle.
It’s always healthier to cook mushrooms before eating them. Cooking mushrooms breaks down their indigestible, chitin cell walls. This makes nutrients available to the body and degrades trace toxins. They taste best when cooked in a fat. Yum!
Thanks to the West Virginia Botanic Garden, and to Dr. Panaccione. He’s a fun-guy!
Is there anything I left out? I’d love to know in the comments below!
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