Sunday, 20 September 2009

Mushrooms Are Mysterious

"Once the rains stopped in April the chantarelles were done for the year, and there wouldn't be another important mushroom to hunt until the morels came up in May. I used the time before then to read about mushrooms and talk to mycologists, hoping to answer some of the questions I had collected about fungi, a life form I was beginning to regard as deeply mysterious. What made mushrooms mushroom when and where they did? Why do chantarelles associate with oaks and morels with pines? Why under this tree and not that one? How long do they live? Why do some mushrooms manufacture deadly toxins, not to mention powerful hallucinogens and a range of delicious flavours? I brought the gardener's perspective to these plantlike objects, but of course they're not plants, and plant knowledge is all but useless in understanding fungi, which are in fact more closely related to animals than they are to plants."

Michael Pollan, from "The Omnivore's Dilemma"
Don't have much to add to that. People get obsessed with mushroom hunting. It's wildly exciting to find edible wild mushrooms - hey, free food! Two of my favourite things in one place. But they do seem mysterious, even magical, in that they will show themselves to you or not.

I note, however, that when Mr. Ferdzy and I were in Spain a few years ago I had minor cause (unrelated to mushrooms) to visit the emergency room in Pamplona. We were amused and a bit horrified to see that the main decorative features of the room were 2 gigantic posters identifying different species of poisonous mushrooms - presumably so that expiring visitors could point as they gasped their last, "este, fue este". On the other hand, Mr Ferdzy's dad has been an assiduous mushroom hunter for years. It makes our hair stand on end, but he's still around and kicking, and hasn't even had any bad experiences that we've heard of. It can be done, with a bit of care and a good guide.

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