Events

Is this a Death Cap? Mushrooms: the good, bad, and ugly

Mushrooms, and then some, at the 42nd Annual Fungus Fair in Berkeley this past weekend. Photos: Ben Knobel

This weekend saw a veritable mushroom extravaganza in Berkeley, as the Lawrence Hall of Science hosted the 42nd Annual Fungus Fair. Over two days, no stone, log or root was left unturned in order to bring to the public’s attention the fascinating and abundant life of beautiful, tasty, inedible, and downright poisonous fungi.

In the marketplace, visitors were offered the chance to buy chanterelles and tree oysters; there were educational displays and talks on urban foraging and fungimental mycophagy — as well as a lecture entitled “Spores Illustrated”; cooking demonstrations; and make-your-own mushroom kits.

Kids painted cardboard mushrooms in the family center, while in an adjacent room, a booth showcased psilocybin varieties, otherwise known as magic mushrooms, or shrooms.

At the Mushroom Identification table, Erin Page Blanchard was on hand as part of a team of experts willing to identify fungi brought in by members of the public.

A wide variety of fungi were for sale, but the event was also highly educational

Blanchard, a volunteer at the Mycological Society of San Francisco (MSSF), said on Sunday afternoon that the crew had seen a wide variety of mushrooms over the course of the weekend. Most were fairly easy to name, but others, she said, including some from the Russula and coral mushroom families, proved tricky.


“There is lots of variety within those species, so it it sometimes difficult to be sure of the exact type of mushroom it is,” she explained.

Displays included this one which emulated natural conditions for particular mushroom varieties

Blanchard was happy to offer her opinion on which fungi tasted good and which were best avoided — including, in her opinion, the Suillus caerulescens variety which she described as “really slimy”. However one visitor had, according to Blanchard, spent 45 minutes at her stand pointing out that he thoroughly enjoyed eating the vast majority of the “rejected” varieties.

The identification team had also seen more than a few examples of the Amanita phalloides, the deadliest mushroom in California. As The Bay Citizen reported on Sunday, it’s the season for this variety commonly know as the death cap. According to Blanchard, it’s important to dig up a mushroom under its roots in order to be able to clearly identify it. The giveaway with the off-white death cap, for instance, is the cup at its base known as the volva.

Erin Page Blanchard, left, was one of the expert "identifiers" on hand to help foragers ensure they had found edible varieties

To find out about more events in Berkeley and nearby, visit Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. We also encourage you to submit your own events.