Fungi and Mushrooms
The word “fungi” conjures images we’d rather not find in our kitchens and bathrooms. However, we couldn’t live without the sprawling mass of fungi which quietly inhabits our forests.
Fungi were the first organisms to come to land from earth’s violent seas, 1.3 billion years ago. Mycelium is a network of fungi cells, and mushrooms are their visible “fruit”.
Despite their tiny size, fungi can break through asphalt and concrete for the benefit of other living creatures. In its micro-cavities, mycelium can hold 30,000 times its weight in wet soil. It prevents soil erosion by honey-combing the earth where water collects where it can be released over time. It has a critical role in sustaining plant life by collecting, storing and releasing nutrients and water to forest life.
Fungi cannot manufacture food through photosynthesis like plants do. Mycelium grows by producing enzymes which digest their surroundings, such as fallen and rotting logs. Over the years, mycelium breaks down organic material which helps form the forest floor. Fungi reproduce by releasing tiny seed spores.
The role of mycelium to a living forest cannot be understated. Mycelia draw nutrients from the soil and in a mutualistic relationship, receive needed proteins created by trees’ photosynthetic activities. Without this cooperative relationship, our forests would diminish or die.
Can mushrooms be eaten?
Any mushroom can be eaten – once! There are many poisonous mushrooms in British Columbia, some of which can secret poisons through the skin. Care must be taken in handling wild mushrooms.
One poisonous mushroom in BC’s forests is the Amanita pantherina. You can see what this group of mushrooms look like on the E-Flora website. A colourful but potentially deadly mushroom sometimes seen in the Morrell Nature Sanctuary is the Amanita muscaria, a bright red and white spotted variety. These mushrooms are also harmful to dogs!