Every year in October the Northwest Mushroomers Association (NMA) hosts a Wild Mushroom Show at Bloedel Donovan Park in Bellingham. It is a unique event, and a remarkable demonstration of the diversity of nature. It’s also really fun!
Members of the NMA gather fresh examples of as many varieties of mushrooms as possible which grow wild in our area. Tucked in with moss to help keep them moist, hundreds of mushrooms are displayed in trays. Labels identify the Latin names, common names (if any), and icons indicating edible or poisonous varieties.
Mushrooms are grouped according to how they distribute their spores (gills or tubes) and according to the color of the spores. Both of these traits are important considerations in identifying and classifying mushrooms.
This year there was a special three dimensional, naturalized display of mushrooms at the entrance showing mushrooms as they might appear in the wild–attached to trees, under leaves, and so on. It was colorful and lovely, and I spent some time circling the table taking samples with my camera.
Later, in the center of the room I found a popular exhibit of the most easily and safely identified edible mushrooms. Samples here ranged from the familiar “boletus” and “chanterelles” to the exotic “shaggy mane” and the fabulous “Matsutaki.”
In ancient Japan, member Jack Waytz explained, you could lose your head if you found a Matsutaki and didn’t turn it over immediately to the emperor! They’re supposedly that flavorful. I can’t wait to try some. And to think they grow wild here!
Viewing the incredible range of sizes, delicate colors, and strange shapes of mushrooms is an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. However, NMA members do a lot more to enhance your experience and help visitors learn more about fungi.
For example, perhaps you’ve found mushrooms growing in your yard and wondered what they are and whether or not they are edible. The show always includes an identification table where you can bring mushroom samples and have them examined by members who are mycological experts.
Always hands on, I visited the “touch and smell” table. It included a selection of commonly found mushrooms with distinctive textures and scents. I learned that the “prince,” a large edible mushroom, has a nutty almond-like smell.
“Microscopy” was a table I hadn’t seen before. Member Christine Roberts helped me view the developing spores and spore tubes of a tiny “orange peel” mushroom. She and other members were helping people sample, stain, and make slides of mushroom samples they brought to the show.
Cascadia Mushrooms (Bellingham) was on hand with expert advice on how to cultivate edible mushrooms yourself. They also had kits for sale for growing mushrooms at home.
Other tables included cooked mushrooms to sample, books and T-shirts to purchase, and NMA membership information. I also particularly enjoyed a display of handmade paper made with mushrooms. The colors and textures were fascinating and lovely.
This year the NMA had a contest to select the artwork used on the poster advertising the show. Prints of all the artwork submitted were hung for viewing, and there were also special mushroom craft activities for kids.
Besides the exhibits, the Wild Mushroom Show offered live scheduled presentations. Subjects included something for everyone, such as “Choice Edibles and Inedible Look-alikes” by Dick Morrison and “Natural History of Psychedelic Mushrooms” by Pete Trenham.
There was standing room only at the “Cooking With Mushrooms” talk by Jack Waytz, and I quickly learned why. Jack’s lively speaking style and humorous stories were highly entertaining, and his recipe descriptions had people salivating throughout the room. For example, he so vividly describe a favorite dish made with lobster mushrooms, roasted red peppers, a little hot pepper, and some tiger prawns served over rice that a few people actually moaned as they imagined the taste.
Northwest Mushroomers are obviously passionate about the complex and fascinating fungi they enjoy studying, and their interest is infectious. The Wild Mushroom Show requires a monumental amount of effort.
If you haven’t ever attended the show, I highly recommend making a note on your calendar to check the NMA website in early October next year for the 2014 show date.
For more information about the NMA, their forays and classes, or mushrooms in general, see their website or send a note to: Northwest Mushroomers Association (NMA), P.O. Box 28581, Bellingham, WA 98228-0581