Buena Vista hosts ‘shroom event | SummitDaily.com

Buena Vista hosts ‘shroom event

Summit Daily file photo/Brad OdekirkField searches, tastings planned for popular, or not so popular, fungi, today in Buena Vista.

BUENA VISTA – The air is sizzling with the smell of butter, garlic and wild mushrooms, but this isn’t the kitchen of some high-falutin’ hotel in Vail. It’s the annual Buena Vista King Boletus Festival, named for one of the popular edible mushroom species that can grow in profusion among Colorado’s stately spruce and fir groves. A few dozen avid mushroom collectors are returning to the trailhead with baskets full of fungi, in a dazzling array of sizes, shapes and colors. In the parking lot, volunteer experts help identify the bounty, discarding unwanted specimens and using camp stoves to cook up the rest, serving them with wine and crackers.

With just the right combination of monsoon moisture and temperatures, late August becomes prime time for mushrooms in the Colorado High Country, and Buena Vista is one of several towns to take advantage of this mycological bonanza by hosting festivals in honor of the fungus family.This year’s Buena Vista bash begins today and continues Sunday with the basic identification class set for 8:30 a.m. at the community center on East Main Street (Call (719) 395-8458 for information). In the afternoon, mushroom experts will lead forays into the moist glades of the Sawatch range, followed by a wild mushroom soup reception at the town’s heritage center. Sunday morning brings another field session, with an emphasis on learning how to identify common Colorado species.Among the five-star gourmet mushrooms that grow in the state are the already-mentioned Boletus edulis (more commonly known as cep or porcini); delectable, spicy-sweet members of the chanterelle family; osyter mushrooms that thrive on cottonwood and aspen stumps and even tasty morels that fruit both in riparian woodlands and high-mountain evergreen forests.

The mushroom buttons and caps that pop up in the pine duff and alongside trails every summer are only the visible, spore-bearing bodies of a vast network of underground fibers that can extend for hundreds of square yards in the soil. Some recent research even suggests that the entire bulk of Mount Hood in Oregon could be encased by a single mycelial network, with all the strands over hundreds of square miles sharing the same DNA.Many people see mushrooms as the slimy, squishable low-life equivalent of slugs, but they are critical recyclers of the natural world, says Marilyn Shaw, a toxicology expert with the Colorado Mycological Society. “Without them, we’d be up to our eyeballs in dead branches,” Shaw says. Along with breaking down debris and converting it back into material that can be used by plants, fungi are also an important food source for wildlife, and others have a type of symbiotic relationship with up to 90 percent of all green plant species.

In some cases, the mushroom “roots,” strands of the mycelium, ensheathe the roots of green plants and trees, almost fusing together at the cellular and molecular level. That enables an exchange of food sources; carbohydrates for the fungus and minerals for the plant. At the same time, some fungal partners also provide antibacterial protection for the plants – after all, penicillin is nothing but a humble fungal mold.This much of the science is understood, but the overall place of fungus in the greater forest health picture is less clear, and experts are urging land managers in Colorado to do more research on the subject. As conveyors of moisture, fungi could prove particularly sensitive to slight changes in weather conditions, with as-yet unforeseen consequences for trees and plants.The best way to explore the world of mushrooms is in the field with an expert. This is very important because if you eat the wrong ones, you may get very sick and die. Starting out with the help of knowledgeable and conscientious guides also helps foster a sustainable collecting ethic that emphasizes conservation of natural resources and habitat. Collectors also have the responsibility to inform themselves of any regulations governing the harvest of forest products on public lands. Collecting mushrooms in Rocky Mountain Park, for example, is not allowed.

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