By Larry Thomas
Mushrooms are among the most mysterious life forms, and here in West Virginia, mushrooms are thriving. According to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, nearly 1,700 species of mushrooms and other types of large fungi have been found in our Mountain State.
Due to last year’s popularity, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy scheduled another Mushroom Meander on September 10, and over 25 individuals attended. The weather forecast caused several individuals to cancel, providing me an opportunity to snag a spot to attend. Mother Nature was kind and provided beautiful weather during the entire event.
Once again, the trip leader was Dr. Kristen “Kay” Wickert. See her popular Instagram account(@kaydubsthehikingscientist) with over 32,000 fans that is chocked full of interesting woodland flora and fauna. Kristen is a professional naturalist, botanist, forest entomologist, and plant pathologist and describes herself as a “Nature Nerd in Appalachia” on the site. She holds a bachelor’s in forest biology from Penn State and a master’s and PhD in plant pathology from West Virginia University. She studies the interrelation and interdependence between fungi, arthropods, and plants.
Kristen is also the president of the West Virginia Mushroom Club, a non-profit organization founded to promote fellowship, communication and education for anyone interested in fungi. It is an amateur club, and although members’ skills range from beginners to world-renowned experts, most are beginners.
We again met at the main lodge at Canaan Valley Resort State Park and decided to hike down the hill behind the lodge to a patch of woods filled with various and sundry fungi. Meandering through the woods, finding more and more species every step of the way.
Kristen kept us moving, stopping occasionally and telling us to “think like a mushroom.” That was the clue for everyone to spread out and search for mushrooms, bringing them back to a central spot where Kristen would identify each find by name and provide a great description of the caps, gills, stalks, and classifications plus the wide range of flavors, smells and consistencies. Some of these mushrooms are food and/or medicine, and she discussed editable vs. noneditable for those of us amateurs, as there are so many poisonous mushrooms that look like edible mushrooms.
Because we were blessed with rain for several days before the event, there was plenty of moisture which spawned plenty of mushrooms. We found puffballs, waxy caps, cordyceps, a death angel, turkey tails, and the coveted chaga. Two that I found very interesting were the death angel and chaga. The death angel is very poisonous and can cause serious illness or death if ingested, while chaga mushrooms are good for boosting your immune system, fighting cancer, and lowering your cholesterol. You can consume this antioxidant-loaded fungus as a tea or supplement.
There were many more species. We found so many types of mushrooms right down the hill from the main lodge, proving that we don’t have to look far to find the plethora of fungi interacting with plants, insects and trees.
For mushroom guides, Kristen recommended Mushrooms of the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada by Tim Baroni; other Highlands-centric guides include Appalachian Mushrooms by Walt Sturgeon and Mushrooms of West Virginia and the Central Appalachians by William C. Roody. mushroomexpert.com is also a good resource.
Participants certainly learned a lot about mushroom identity and characteristics on this great meander through the woods. For me, I want to learn even more.
WVHC wants to thank Canaan Valley Resort State Park for again hosting our outing. A very special thanks to Dr. Wickert, of the West Virginia Mushroom Club for again leading the meander. You can become a member of the West Virginia Mushroom Club on their website wvmushroomclub.net/join-us. We plan to continue mushroom and other outings next year and into the future. Keep an eye on us at wvhighlands.org as well as on our social media.
Connect with the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy on Facebook and Instagram (@wvhighlandsconservancy).