News / Vancouver

New UBC mushroom guide aims to protect amateur foragers

Eating a mis-identified mushroom can be lethal

Fly agaric, Amanita muscaria. This is a beautiful and poisonous mushroom, although it is not usually deadly. Contains neurotoxins causing inebriation and delirium.

Paul Joseph / UBC Public Affairs

Fly agaric, Amanita muscaria. This is a beautiful and poisonous mushroom, although it is not usually deadly. Contains neurotoxins causing inebriation and delirium.

Can you tell the difference between a golden chanterelle and a false chanterelle? Most people can’t, but the lure of delicious wild mushrooms is attracting foodies to the forests and that calls for a B.C.-specific online guide, says UBC botanist and mushroom expert Mary Berbee.

Many popular 'shrooms like chanterelles and pine mushrooms found on dinner plates have look-alikes that can fool the average person.

“No commercial buyer would make the mistake of thinking one was the other, but someone collecting for the table could, very easily,” said Berbee.

She is developing a website that will hopefully help foragers identify the mushroom in their hand correctly. It’s no small feat, given there are 3,300 known species of mushrooms in B.C.

“One of the things we hope to do is take advantage of being able to provide more comparison with an app than you can provide in a book.”

The online guide,will feature detailed descriptions and images of 50 popular mushrooms and their look-a-likes found in B.C. Berbee is also working to send mushroom samples for DNA sequencing in order to start a genome database that could one day help healthcare workers when treating a case of mushroom poisoning.

Many poisonous mushrooms will give unsuspecting foragers stomach aches if eaten but some can be deadly, especially to young or elderly people. 

Berbee highlighted the tragic case of a Victoria toddler who died after eating a death cap mushroom in October 2016.

“The reason why death caps are so much of a problem is you can eat those mushrooms and you won’t have any symptoms for six hours, by which time you will have digested the mushroom,” she explained.

As mushrooms like death caps – an invasive species from Europe – become more common, a quick and easily accessible resource for mushroom foragers is essential, said Berbee. Death caps are thriving in East Vancouver, especially in neighbourhoods with a lot of hornbeam trees, a favourite place for these mushrooms to grow, according to Berbee. The fungus is also not difficult to find in parts of Victoria, she added.

Berbee is working with Beaty Biodiversity Museum, B.C. Centre for Disease Control, regional mushroom clubs, and UBC’s Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies to develop the online guide.

But Berbee encourages beginners to start by joining a guided walk to minimize the chance of mushroom poisoning.

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