Ethnomycology, Roots and the Universality of Mycorrhizal Fungi
by Britt A. Bunyard
Publisher and Editor in Chief, Fungi magazine
Aug 27, 2009 | 747 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
GUEST COMMENTARY

For 29 years, lovers of wild mushrooms and their kin have descended upon Telluride for the Annual Mushroom Festival. Many come to learn from expert lecturers on medicinally important mushrooms, others to gain hands-on experience cultivating or cooking with gourmet mushrooms, and still others come to simply let their hair down (some, literally) with old friends. The event is family-friendly and surely offers something for everyone. Besides the lectures, the workshops, and the demonstrations, most would no doubt say they come to the Telluride Festival to learn how to safely identify wild mushrooms.

Foraging for wild edible foods is now more popular than ever in North America and wild mushrooms top the list for many people. But the average mushroom hunter would be quick to tell you that they stick to just a few species that they feel comfortable with. And with good reason: while there are only a few poisonous species in North America, dozens of poisonings occur every year, some resulting in death. The best way to learn new delectable species that YOU can find in the forests around us, is to go with an expert. As usual, the Telluride Festival will feature many mushroom experts leading educational forays. Besides the local experts that will be on hand, world-renowned mycologist Gary Lincoff (author of the most popular field guide to mushrooms, The Audubon Field Guide to North American Mushrooms) will again head the list. And, as an added treat this year, the award-winning film Know Your Mushrooms (by Toronto based director Ron Mann) will be showing at the end of each day’s festivities. The film stars Lincoff, and wild mushroom guru Larry Evans of Montana.

When Festival organizer Art Goodtimes contacted me earlier this spring, he asked if I would be willing to give a lecture. I said sure…but what was to be my topic? He said he was holding a copy of the latest issue of the magazine I publish in his hand – the theme of that issue was Ethnomycology – and he told me that it seemed like the perfect topic! Being one of my favorite topics in all of Mycology (the study of mushrooms and other fungi), how could I refuse!

An overriding theme of every Telluride Festival is ethnomycology. Ethnomycology is the study of how different civilizations around the world use fungi – mostly mushrooms – for food, fibers, medicines, spirituality, as well as other purposes. And all of us are more connected to mushrooms than you may have guessed. Of course many fungi are pathogens of plants and animals – even us – but many more kinds of fungi are beneficial to us. In fact, nearly all plants are dependent on mycorrhizal fungi (there’s a word you can impress your friends with!) that live on the roots and assist with uptake of water and nutrients. Most plants cannot live without these crucial partners in the environment. That means WE are dependent on the fungi that inhabit our world around us. And it turns out that most of these important root symbionts are fungi that produce some of our best and most highly sought after edible mushrooms. Think about that the next time you reach down to pick a gorgeous king bolete or a radiant chanterelle.

To learn much much more, come on out to the 29th Annual Telluride Mushroom Festival!
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