Mushroom Walk: A Guide to BC's Edible and Inedible Mushrooms

By Melissa Shaw

The Beaty Biodiversity Museum at the University of British Columbia (UBC) hosted a Mushroom Walk, led by Botany Professor Mary Berbee, on Saturday.

Berbee said a lot of people are curious about whether they can eat mushrooms but there is no general rule as to which mushrooms are poisonous or safe for human consumption. 

"You have to get to know the species of mushroom one at a time and become really familiar with them," she said. 

She said one way of identifying mushrooms is by the colour of their spores. To create a spore print, a mushroom cap is placed gill side down for about six hours until the spores are released from the gills.
 

The various colours of mushroom spores can aid identification. Photo: Melissa Shaw

The various colours of mushroom spores can aid identification. Photo: Melissa Shaw

When eating a type of edible mushroom for the first time, Berbee advised ingesting a tiny piece, in case the body has an allergic reaction. 

"If you were to go out on Main Mall [street on UBC campus] and just start eating all the mushrooms that you found and you just did it until you couldn't put another mushroom in your mouth you would have one heck of a stomach ache," she said. "You might have hallucinations too, but you probably wouldn't die."

During the rainy walk, about 60 participants had the chance to taste, smell and feel various types of wild mushrooms. Tastes ranged from 'spicy' or 'peppery' to the bland 'Shaggy Mane' otherwise known as 'Inky Cap', which has to be eaten shortly after picking, because it spoils quickly. Mushrooms were described as smelling like burning tires, onions, garlic, or radishes. Each type of mushroom was collected and brought back to the museum for identification. 

B.C. fungi produce mushrooms during a two-week period in the fall and the purpose of the mushroom structure is to release spores, allowing it to reproduce and spread. During the rest of the year, fungi exist underground, using hyphae to break down dead leaves and wood, drawing sugars from the plant material and delivering fertilizer to the trees.

By popular vote, the winning mushroom was declared to be the Laccaria amethystina or 'Amethyst Deceiver' mushroom.

The fan favourite 'Amethyst Deceiver'. Photo: Melissa Shaw

The fan favourite 'Amethyst Deceiver'. Photo: Melissa Shaw