In 1999, Wills and Lipsey identified a group of provincial non-timber forest products (NTFP) and services, including wild mushrooms, that can be commercially harvested from forests and other habitats for culinary or reputed nutriceutical purposes. The wild mushroom harvest alone contributes millions of dollars to the provincial economy. The pine mushroom (Tricholoma magnivelare), is by far the most valuable commercially harvested mushroom. Other valuable edible mushrooms are the chanterelles, morels, lobsters, boletes, cauliflowers and hedgehogs. Pine mushrooms are exported exclusively to Japan, while chanterelles and other wild mushrooms are exported primarily to Europe and other parts of North America. Medical research, predominantly from Asia, suggests that many compounds derived from mushrooms prevent illnesses or boost human health. The demand for wild mushrooms is, therefore, expected to increase.

Biological, taxonomical and ecological information on mushrooms that are currently (or could potentially be) harvested commercially is scattered throughout various scientific and technical publications. Developing an understanding of these wild mushrooms can be an arduous task for someone with limited mycological training. People with minimal mycological experience who are involved in the wild mushroom harvest -- pickers, sellers, buyers, foresters, managers, ecologists and naturalists -- require a concise, user-friendly mushroom information source. This web site seeks to bring together such scientific and technical information on our province's edible wild mushrooms.

Mushroom Biology
A mushroom is the above ground fruiting body of a fungus. Unlike plants, fungi do not manufacture their own food but must absorb their food from an external source. They obtain their food in three ways, as:

  • saprophytes that live off dead organic material;
  • symbionts that form mutually beneficial; relationships with living organisms
  • parasites or pathogens that infect live off living organisms.

Many forest mushrooms form symbiotic relationships known as mycorrhizae with tree roots. Mycorrhizal mushrooms are critical to the health of their hosts. Saprophytes included on this web site decompose organic matter such as decaying wood, forest litter and other plant material. Parasitic mushrooms included here are pathogens that either cause butt or root rots of conifer and deciduous trees or infect and actually 'feed off' other mushrooms.

All mushrooms have at least two parts to their life cycle: (1) a vegetative stage dedicated to growth and (2) a reproductive stage (fruiting bodies) dedicated to spore production. The vegetative stage is composed of filamentous threads known as hyphae through which water and nutrients move throughout the fungus. Under ideal conditions, hyphae grow rapidly and form a complex intricate network known as the mycelium. When environmental conditions are suitable, the mycelium forms fruiting bodies that come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colours, tastes and odours. Mushrooms are fruiting bodies formed above ground while truffles form fruiting bodies below ground. Typical mushrooms have caps (pilei), gills (lamellae) and stalks (stipes) that vary greatly in form. Mushrooms belonging to the Basidiomycetes produce spores on sexual structures called basidia that are found underneath the cap on gills, folds or veins, pores or tubes, or in spines or teeth (see illustration below). The fertile layer or tissue is called the hymenium. Mushrooms belonging to the Ascomycetes, such as morels, produce their spores inside sac-like structures called asci. Spores are dispersed to new habitats by wind, water, air currents and animals that eat the fruiting bodies. Basidia, asci and spores are microscopic structures. Spore shape, size and chemical reactivity are important characters used to identify mushrooms.

Mushroom Names
We include both scientific and common names of mushrooms. Scientific (or Latin) names are used because they are the same no matter what the spoken language may be and their binomial name can help indicate relationships among similar species. Some morphological species are difficult to differentiate und field conditions and molecular analysis is increasingly being used to separate species. These tests are revealing unexpected relationships among traditional species groups. As a result, species concepts are changing, with species transferred between genera, and genera between families. New genera and families are being erected, even as previously used family and generic names are disappearing. With each transfer, the scientific name changes. Synonyms are previously used names that reflect where earlier scientists have classified the mushroom. For instance, the pine mushroom of B.C. was at one time called Armillaria ponderosa and Tricholoma ponderosa, but taxonomists have determined that pine mushrooms belong to the genus Tricholoma and nomenclatural rules dictate that the first named species –– in this case magnivelare –– is the valid name and must be used. Each mushroom’s description includes its synonyms.

We also include the etymology or history of the scientific name for each species because it can help us to remember the Latin name. For instance, the Latin root ‘lact’ means ‘milk’ in English, which helps us remember that any mushroom name including “lact” in its name will probably exude a milk–like liquid when cut.

Common names reflect regional and local preferences. Over time, various people have coined vernacular names for a variety of different reasons. Some common names stick, others don’t, and rarely do such names reflect similarities or affinities among or within groups. Nonetheless, they can be useful so we present both the preferred common name as well as the more common Latin synonyms.

Mushroom Identification
No web site can substitute for training in mushroom identification. Some mushrooms in B.C. are deadly poisonous, others are moderately poisonous and others are safe to eat for most people. Some edible mushrooms cause negative reactions in some people. So it is important to never eat mushrooms that haven’t been correctly identified.

All species descriptions are based on fresh specimens and are organized by features of the cap, hymenium and stalk. Pertinent micro-features such as spore color, shape, and size, shape of basidia, presence of clamp connections, etc., are also included.

Macroscopic Features
Cap (Pileus)
Diameter of both the button and mature caps are measured. The variations among the most common cap shapes are presented below. Surface texture is described as being smooth, furry, fibrillose, scaly, sticky, slimy, cracking, or splitting (especially towards the margins). Colour and any colour changes should be noted and described using a standard colour chart. After mature and immature caps are cut, their texture, colour, bruising colour changes, and width at the stalk apex as well as at the base should be described.

Taste and Odour
Tastes and odours of fresh mushrooms can be distinctive and help identify a mushroom, so taste and odours of fresh specimens should be noted. Be aware that some mushrooms are deadly poisonous, so do not swallow tissues of unknown mushrooms. [Taste and “spit”!]

Gills, Folds, Veins, Pores, Tubes or Spines (Hymenium)
The gills, folds, pores or spines are attached to the stalk in a variety of ways (see illustrations below). Spacing, depth, nature of the edge and branching pattern are all described, as are the colour of gills in both button and mature mushrooms as well as any colour changes.

Stalk (Stipe)
Not all mushrooms have stalks, but if they do, the length (from apex to base) as well as the width (both at the apex and and at the base) are measured. Other features noted include the stalk’s shape, its surface texture, its colour, and the texture and colour of the context (the flesh or internal tissue). If a ring (annulus) and basal cup (volva) are present, they are described.


Microscopic Features
Spores
Spore prints are key aids in identifying mushrooms. Separate a mature cap from the stalk and place it on white or black paper with the hymenium facing down, so that spores collect on the paper. Place the cap and paper inside a lightly covered container and leave outside in ambient temperatures for 12–24 hours. Note the spore print colour (without magnification) to help identify and classify the mushroom. To examine the spores microscopically, place the hymenium tissue on a microscope slide in water or Melzer’s reagent and cover with a glass cover slip before examining under the microscope. Measure and examine the spores. Spores are placed in Melzer’s reagent because the spores’ reaction helps in mushroom identification. Sometimes, to identify unknown specimens, additional reagents such as cotton blue are used as an aid to precise identification.

Other Features
Clamp connections, which are connecting cells between two adjoining hyphal cells, occur only in fungi belonging to the Basidiomycetes. The presence or absence of clamp connections can assist in identifying mushrooms in this group.

The length of the basidia or asci and the number of spores produced by them also help to identify some mushrooms.

Hymenial cystidia are sterile cells interspersed among the basidia in the hymenium, and their presence or absence can also be important. When they are present, their shape and size are very helpful in indentifying mushrooms.

Mushroom Habitats and Habits
Habitat includes the ecological setting in which a mushroom is most likely to be found. This includes the host trees or host substrates as well as the surrounding vegetation. Some mushrooms can colonize a wide range of substrates such as dead wood or twigs or hosts, while others are very specific to certain substrates or hosts. For instance, Boletus mirabilis, the admirable bolete, forms ectomycorrhizae only with western hemlock, while Tricholoma magnivelare, the pine mushroom, colonizes a variety of conifer trees. Likewise, some saprophytic mushrooms decompose a wide range of woody hosts, while others decompose very specific woody hosts. Some saprophytes decompose forest litter, while others decompose organic matter in pastures, lawns or disturbed areas.

The vast majority of B.C. NTFP mushrooms fruit in the autumn, although some fruit only in the spring. Others may fruit throughout the year, weather permitting. It is important to know in which season a mushroom fruits when hunting for a specific mushroom. Fruiting itself is triggered by such environmental factors as moisture and temperature. Fruiting patterns of specific mushrooms vary, as some fruit singly, others fruit in troops and still others form clusters. On this website, we provide the fruiting habit of each mushroom.


Distribution Maps
The distribution map for each species is based on collection areas confirmed from personal and herbarium collections and published reports. There are undoubtedly parts of the province where some species occur but which are not yet included in these maps. As more data are added, these distribution maps will more accurately reflect the entire range and distribution of each species.

Interesting Facts
Mushrooms have been part of human civilizations for centuries. One of the earliest records of mushroom use was the case of Otzi, the Tyrolean Iceman, who was frozen in ice but not discovered until 1991 in the Italian Alps. Otzi lived 5,000 years ago and was carrying three different mushrooms when he died. The fungi had laxative and antibiotic properties, and scientists speculate that Otzi used the fungi to cure his stomach parasites. In Asia, mushrooms have been used for centuries for culinary, medicinal, nutriceutical and aphrodisiacal purposes. Ancient Greeks and Romans welcomed thunderstorms because they believed that mushrooms appeared after lightning. There is a plethora of beneficial and unusual uses attributed to certain mushrooms, some of which we include in our treatment of individual species. We also provide unusual items of interest about each species. Some fungi have a livelier or longer history than others, so for some species there is an extensive section on interesting facts.

Disclaimer
No single test can determine the culinary, beneficial or toxic properties of a specific mushroom. As some mushrooms can be deadly poisonous, we emphasize that the only safe means of separating edible mushrooms from poisonous ones is the positive identification by an expert.

For over twenty centuries, Chinese doctors have used mushrooms and other fungi to cure many types of human diseases. These medicinal mushrooms have also been credited with the ability to promote health and boost the immune system. However, Western medicine is still struggling to confirm Eastern medicinal uses of mushrooms.

Many mushrooms produce both beneficial and toxic compounds; the same compound can have beneficial or detrimental effects depending on the amount consumed, how the mushroom is prepared, what other foods or beverages are consumed with it, and whether an individual is over-senstive to the active compounds. We neither confirm nor deny the actions attributed to individual mushroom compounds. Although we are aware of many incidences where people attribute their well being to a specific mushroom, we try to avoid repeating anecdotal evidence and cite only published scientific research with respect to the healing or other beneficial properties attributed to each species. We do direct the reader to published reports of the benefits of specific mushrooms after each species description.

Reference

Wills, R.M., and R.G. Lipsey, 1999. An economic strategy to develop Non-Timber Forest Products and Services in British Columbia. Forest Renewal BC Project No. PA97538-ORE. Final Report.