Thursday, January 5, 2012


Mycophobia: the fear of mushrooms. In the west, mushrooms have been vilified as being deadly poisonous, harmful and hallucinogenic. In reality, there are only a handful of fungi that have these properties. With experience, one can learn to identify these fungi and avoid them. Fungi are in fact vitally important to life on this planet. They may have helped plants colonize land through mutualistic symbiotic relationships, they break down rocks into soil, and they recycle nutrients in the ecosystem.

I am most interested in fungal diversity. There are an estimated 1.5 million species of fungi, yet only about 10,000 of these have been officially described. That means that there is an entire universe to discover, most of which is underground and microscopic. In most of Europe and Asia, fungi are part of the culture. They grow up knowing how to collect and eat wild mushrooms, yet in North America, we are scared of them. My friend from Russia tells me she grew up knowing the word "mycelium", the body of the fungus that is underground and gives rise to the fruiting body above ground. I live in the Province of British Columbia, possibly the most botanically diverse provinces in Canada, and thus there are mushrooms completely unknown to science, lying there at my doorstep. Through advanced scientific techniques, we are able to detect these novel fungal at a faster rate than we can describe them. I am part of a scientific community who is just beginning to learn what to do with this information.

I invite you to look through the eyes of a mycologist and delve into the world of fungi. We will go on fungal forays, look at delicious edible fungi, poisonous fungi and just plain interesting fungi. We will also explore topics in the science of fungi. The adventure begins now!