Migration — Fungus Among Us

That headline should be fungi, but it doesn’t sound the same. Anyway, mushrooms are everywhere this year. My neighbors’ lawns look like someone dropped little pieces of tissue all over them. The base of trees is speckled with white flecks. I saw one big enough to hold Miss Muffet, the spider and the rest of the nursery rhyme crew with room to spare. (She was actually sitting on a stool, but never mind.) The other day I thought some animal had shredded one of our new downspouts. Turned out to be just another crop of ‘shrooms.

Mycologists attribute this bounty to the rain that’s been plaguing much of the country all summer. It seems that everything from shiitake to truffle to portobello thrive on  moisture. Unfortunately with the spreading fungi come reports of illness and death. The most recent fatality – September 17 – is a 40 year old British woman who ate a Death Cap, according to the Daily Telegraph.

With the growing popularity of eating locally, there will no doubt be more reports like this one, despite repeated warnings. Death Cap closely resembles the edible the Paddy-Straw variety, with poisonings most common among immigrants from Southeast Asia who forage on the West Coast .

Okay, so we know the button variety sold in those Styrofoam packages at the grocery store is safe, right? Well, one expert said he wouldn’t eat them raw – something about potential carcinogens that get destroyed in cooking. See “Science Friday.”

My favorite is the Blue Mountain king/queen of fungi that lives in Oregon. “The humungous fungus” is 9.65 square kilometers or 2,385 acres, far outstripping the Wisconsin growth of 38 acres. They both sound like something that should show up on the “X-Files.” No report on whether they’re edible, but they could cure world hunger if they are.
And we can’t leave the subject without talking about the magic variety, which was popular when I was in school back in the Middle Ages but seems to have receded to the background, replaced by synthetic stuff. I remember one student who ate some mushrooms and while waiting for them to take effect decided he’d go about his normal routine – went to class, did a session in the lab, ate lunch, took a bike ride. After he came down, he told his roommate that he’d had a busy day. His roommate looked at him and said, “No you didn’t. You’ve been sitting here on the floor all day.”

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