Enthusiasts take walk on the wild side, mushrooming in the woods of Western Pa.
July 18, 2015 12:00 AM
Seated background, from left, La Monte Yarroll, a mycologist for the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club, and Dick Dougall an identifier for the club, organize the cataloging of mushrooms found on a two-hour club-sponsored mushroom walk in Salamander Park in Fox Chapel.
Brian Johanson of Ross takes photos of mushrooms while others stroll a hillside looking for mushrooms in Salamander Park in Fox Chapel during a Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club walk on July 11.
Cecily Franklin and Kathy Chaparro team up to identify a mushroom during the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club sponsored mushroom walk in Salamander Park in Fox Chapel.
Dick Dougall (in tan coat), a mushroom Identifier with the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club, and Fernando Chapparo of Monroeville look over a mushroom while Barb DeRiso of Fox Chapel photographs another during a club sponsored walk in Salamander Park in Fox Chapel July 11.
Dick Dougall, a mushroom Identifier with the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club, and Kathy Chaparro of Monroeville discuss a find during a club-sponsored mushroom walk in Salamander Park in Fox Chapel.
The Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club found a large patch of chanterelles minutes into a mushroom walk in Salamander Park in Fox Chapel July 11.
Brian Johanson of Ross gets in close to photograph miniature chanterelles in Salamander Park in Fox Chapel.
Dick Dougall, a mushroom Identifier with the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club, leads mushroom hunters up a steep embankment in Salamander Park in Fox Chapel.
Dick Dougall, a mushroom Identifier with the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club, points out an item of interest to Kinley Gillette of Friendship at the beginning of a mushroom walk in Salamander Park in Fox Chapel July 11, as Fernando Chaparro of Monroeville catches up.
A type of Coral mushroom found on a Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club walk in Salamander Park in Fox Chapel.
Dead Man's Fingers found on a Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club walk in Salamander Park in Fox Chapel.
An unidentified group of old mushrooms photographed on a Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club walk in Salamander Park in Fox Chapel.
False Turkey Tails found on a Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club walk in Salamander Park in Fox Chapel.
A Black Trumpet found in Salamander Park in Fox Chapel.
A Crown-tipped coral found in Salamander Park in Fox Chapel.
Mushrooms are organized for cataloging after a two-hour mushroom walk sponsored by the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club in Salamander Park in Fox Chapel.
By Zachary Hudak / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
While most Pittsburghers have been complaining about the frequent rain this summer, local mushroom hunters have welcomed it.
Members of the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club generally find between 25 and 35 mushroom species on each of their weekly walks, but in June they found 63 on their ramble through Deer Lakes Park, which straddles Frazer and West Deer, said club officer La Monte Yarroll of Bethel Park.
Mr. Yarroll is one of the club’s mycologists, meaning that he can identify more than 500 mushrooms.
“We’ve been adding one to two new species to the life list [for the area] every walk,” he said.
The club, a member of the North American Mycological Association, meets almost weekly to find and identify local mushrooms. Those mushrooms, some of which are edible, play an important role in local ecosystems. Some help break down dead wood while others have a symbiotic relationship with plants. The club’s more than 500 members simply enjoy finding and understanding them.
A mushroom is not strictly a fungus. What is generally thought to be a mushroom is actually the fruiting body of a fungus below it, whether in a plant or the ground.
For that reason, some fear that mushrooming could damage ecosystems. But others say taking a mushroom “is like picking an apple off a tree,” said Barbara Ching, executive secretary of the national association.
Some mushrooms can be extremely dangerous to eat. Of the 8,000 to 10,000 in Western Pennsylvania, 50 percent cannot be eaten; 20 percent taste “halfway decent”; 2 percent are “choice edibles,” meaning that they are easily distinguishable and taste good; and then there are the 1 percent that “if you eat it, it’ll kill you,” said Dick Dougall of Shaler. He is an identifier for the local club; he can identify at least 100 mushrooms.
Mushrooms can have hundreds of toxins, with varying degrees of severity, said Frank Lotrich of Shadyside, the head of the club’s toxicology committee. The most common toxins found in mushrooms cause SLUDGE, or salivation, teary eyes, urination, heavy sweating, diarrhea and vomiting, he said. “If someone is not 100 percent sure [that a mushroom is safe to eat], they shouldn’t eat it,” he said.
Each summer, the club finds at least one destroying angel, a white symmetrical mushroom of the genus Amanita that is extremely deadly, Mr. Yarroll said. Some mushrooms of the same genus can be eaten, but, “Eating Amanitas is like playing Russian roulette with real bullets,” Mr. Dougall said. For deadly mushrooms, treatments are usually only successful within 24 hours of eating the mushroom, Mr. Yarroll said.
If you suspect you have eaten a poisonous mushroom, immediately contact your physician or the local poison control center and try to obtain a sample of the mushroom for examination. The national association can provide specialists who can help identify the ingested mushroom.
Technology eventually may make eating wild mushrooms safer. The local club is listing on its website all the species of mushrooms found in the area. Still, it will be some time before people can use their smartphones to safely distinguish between similar looking mushrooms, Mr. Jacob said.
DNA barcoding has become accessible to groups like the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club. When members finds a mushroom they have not previously found in the area, they press a small piece of it onto a small piece of paper, leaving traces of its DNA. They then send the paper to a laboratory at Duke University in North Carolina to be identified. The club was the first to use the process, starting in 2012, Mr. Jacob said.
“We’ve logged over 100 and gotten results from about 60,” he said.
The North American Mycological Association is a federation of 80 amateur mushroom clubs — representing about 1,500 members — throughout the country and in Canada without an official headquarters, said Ms. Ching, who lives in Ames, Iowa. As various clubs identify mushrooms, it allows them to compare notes and classify as many of the thousands in the continent as possible. They have documented more than 30,000, she said.
Despite the dangers of eating certain mushrooms, edible ones can have great nutritional value — if cooked.
Some antibiotics, such as Augmentin, and statins, such as Lipitor, contain agents found in fungi, Dr. Lotrich said. Certain other mushrooms, such as the turkey tail, which can be found in Western Pennsylvania, are thought to be successful anti-cancer agents, “But often the most medicinal aren’t the best tasting,” Ms. Ching said.
Others can taste sweet, such as chanterelles. They are yellow-orange, Dr. Seuss-like mushrooms currently in season in the area and are often eaten with ice cream, she said.
Some members of the local club begin as mere foragers or people interested mostly in mushrooms they can eat, said Mr. Dougall, who has been a member since 2000.
“ ‘Is it edible?’ is their first question. Hopefully, they get over that,” he said.
“I like to teach people about mushrooms,” said Mr. Dougall, who was the walk leader for a tour through Salamander Park in Fox Chapel last weekend.
“We want to know what it is and where it belongs,” he said.
Others are merely enthralled by the fungi.
“I just think they’re cool looking,” said Brian Johanson of Ross, a local club member.
Mr. Dougall retired as a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Pittsburgh around 2000 and teaches a class titled “Wild Mushrooms: A Nature Study” at Carnegie Mellon University.
“My wife was looking for something for me to do,” he said.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity to be a citizen scientist,” Mr. Yarroll said.
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