by: Claudia Bashian-Victoroff, Sarah Kyker, and David Burke
We continue to celebrate September: National Mushroom Month. Mushrooms are amazing (and delicious) and definitely deserve a month of focus and celebration. Today we’ll take a look at how soil and mushrooms interact and support each other.
As researchers, some of the best days are the ones where we get to identify mushrooms in our forest. In mycology, mushrooms are technically referred to as sporocarps, and their presence can tell us a lot about overall forest health. The greater the number of fungal species, the healthier the soil may be, as it contains many species of fungi that carry out important tasks. Important tasks include decomposing dead leaves and plant material, or helping plants acquire nutrients from soil – the latter is done by a special group of soil fungi that live on plant roots, called mycorrhizal fungi. The actions of these fungi help maintain soil fertility and plant growth.
When the fungi in our forests fruit, their mushrooms are often visible aboveground. These mushrooms can hold billions of microscopic spores that are typically spread through the air during fungal reproduction. As scientists, we take advantage of fungal fruiting and use the mushrooms as one of the easiest ways to visually identify the fungal species.
But, much of the life of a fungus is spent belowground and they aren’t visible. Fungi form thread-like structures called hyphae and often these are microscopic. Because they are so small and difficult to separate from soil, scientists have had to find ways to study fungi without relying on mushrooms. Thankfully, we have DNA sequencing! At Holden, we have used DNA sequencing to identify fungi in our forests. Our current estimates are over 7,000 different types of fungi across our Stebbins Gulch natural area alone!
Many of the fungi we find at Holden assist plants by helping to access nutrients or maintain soil fertility. But some fungi are pathogens and cause disease. In fact, younger forests that have grown on land formerly used for farming, tend to have higher numbers of pathogenic fungi. This fact could explain differences we see in tree growth and mortality in young forests that have grown on former farmland.
If you want to learn more:
Claudia Bashian-Victoroff will be leading a mushroom foray on September 18th and you can join us and learn about how to identify fungal species by their mushrooms or sporocarps. This event is currently sold out.
A hands-on mushroom log inoculation workshop is being offered by Jessica Miller where participants will inoculate their own log with shiitake mushroom spawn and take it home to grow their own mushrooms outdoors. Registration is through our website here.
To hear more about how we use DNA sequencing to study fungi in the forests at Holden Forests and Gardens, join Sarah Kyker for a virtual seminar on September 29th. Registration is available on our website here.
Mushroom recipe to enjoy at home:
We love to use mushrooms in our recipes when cooking! Here is one shared with us by our friend, Dr. Korena Mafune. Dr. Mafune is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington who studies plant-fungal interactions.
Chanterelle Tacos (4-5 servings, vegetarian, gluten free)
1lb of dried chanterelle mushrooms
¼ cup of butter, as needed
Chili or cayenne pepper
2-4 cloves of garlic
½ a head of green cabbage
2 tablespoons of mayonnaise or vegan mayonnaise replacement
1 tablespoons of adobo sauce
2 avocados (sliced)
Grated cotija to taste
Cilantro to taste
1. Saute chanterelles in garlic and butter, adding cumin, chili pepper or cayenne pepper pending spice preference. Saute until chanterelles are tender.
2. Separately make the chipotle cabbage slaw by combining finely chopped green cabbage with mayonnaise and adobo sauce (can be used from a can of chipotles).
3. Prepare the lime crema by combining sour cream with lime juice to taste
4. Prepare the cojita, avocado and cilantro toppings
5. Serve constructed tacos or build your own taco station!
Suggested pairing: fresh margaritas or lime seltzer!
Important Note: Whenever you are collecting and eating a wild mushroom practice caution. Use a reliable guide to identify the fungus and confirm your identification with a mycologist. When you are certain about the identity of the fungus, cook and eat a small amount before having a large meal as some individuals are sensitive to some species. Remember: there are old foragers and bold foragers but there are no old, bold foragers.
Claudia Bashian-Victoroff, MS
I am a fungal ecologist focused on connections between soil fungi and tree health. My research couples field collections with modern molecular identification methods to investigate ectomycorrhizal species diversity and function. As a research specialist in Dr. David Burke’s lab at the Holden Arboretum, I support research on soil ecology and forest pathology. Currently, I focus on the role of soil fungi in urban canopy restoration in Cleveland, OH. Trees growing in urbanized environments are subject to pressures such as habitat fragmentation, exposure to heavy metals, and soil compaction. Mycorrhizal fungi can enhance plant growth, disease resistance, and drought tolerance; therefore, it is necessary that we establish a better understanding of how these fungi might improve outcomes of urban restoration efforts. Beyond this, I enjoy discussing the importance of fungal research and conservation with diverse audiences through teaching, writing, and mentorship.