When You Can’t Stop Bringing Up Fungi in Casual Conversations

Imagine if you went out bird watching and half the birds didn’t have names. That’s where we are with fungi according to mycologist Noah Siegel. Fungi are essential for life on this planet, but since they are mostly out of site and out of mind they don’t get the credit or protection due to them.

Siegel delivered an entertaining lecture at this year’s Los Angeles Mycological Society Mushroom Fair this past weekend. He emphasized the important role amateurs can play simply through photography and posting reports in apps like iNaturalist.

When Siegel was asked about the medicinal benefits of certain mushrooms he responded by saying that, “there’s a lot of snake oil out there.” Amen to that. I have to say I’ve become increasingly frustrated with some in the mycology sphere who are more interested in self promotion than in exploring the fungal world in all its majesty and complexity. Comrades, we need better science popularizers!

I also had the privilege of taking a cultivation class the day before the fair taught by Peter McCoy. He taught us a cultivation technique invented by an amateur Robert McPherson, aka Psylocybe Fanaticus, that makes use of sterilized mason jars to inoculate grain. McPherson’s method, which he calls PF Tek, allows you to propagate fungi in your kitchen without a lot of expensive lab equipment. You do need a pressure canner which I’m lobbying the administration here at Root Simple to let me order.

Odds are there’s a mycological society near you. While it’s interesting to grow mushrooms and forage for edible species it’s also just plain fun to look at them wherever they are, in the woods, in a garden or in an alley.

If you’re a local, the LA Mycological society has a very cool reading group run by Aaron Thompson. It’s free and you can sign up here.

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  1. In late summer, here in South Texas, we had several weeks of unusually damp weather. A friend noticed an area of odd whiteness in the shade, near his house. Whatever it was was short, but it was slowly spreading. I used my phone app that is supposed to ID plants. Even though the “thing” wasn’t a plant, it was ID’d as “Hen of the Woods”–a mushroom. I think that the ID was correct, as it did resemble some of the photos that I found online. It disappeared when the damp weather left. We are watching the spot to see if it reappears (if we get some rainy weather).

  2. In cool weather I’m almost always wearing a sweatshirt from one of the San Francisco Mycological Society’s fungus fairs. Folks are always asking me about mushrooms, which is awesome! Particularly since I live in CA, I always want to warn people about A. phalloides, since it’s a look-alike to some choice edibles.

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