Roger Ryno, of the Kitsap Peninsula Mycological Society, poses next to a large display of mushrooms at the Key Center Library. Photo by, KP news

Roger Ryno, of the Kitsap Peninsula Mycological Society, has spent the past five years hunting and gathering local wild mushrooms. On Oct. 11 he held a lecture and a slideshow presentation at the Key Center Library to share his knowledge about mushrooms.

Being a former plant pathologist familiar with fungal diseases, Ryno is well-acquainted with the mysterious world of fungi.

During the Friends of the Library event, he said there are some 5,000 species of mushrooms in North America, and about 100 of these are poisonous and can cause gastrointestinal distress.

“Only six species are deadly. Amanita phalloides or ‘Death Cap’ is responsible for 90 percent of (mushroom-related) deaths in North America. It is known for causing destruction of liver and kidneys, resulting in slow, painful death,” he said.

He said mushroom identification requires local experience. Immigrants picking mushrooms that look like edible species from their home countries could be poisoned, for example. Just because a mushroom is considered edible doesn’t guarantee it is edible for everyone, he said.

Due to the possibility of an allergic reaction, Ryno said it is always wise when eating a mushroom for the first time to cook a very small amount (approximately one tablespoon) as a test sample. If you are unaffected within 24 hours, it is safe to prepare the rest.

According to Ryno, mushrooms are more than just tasty treats.

Fungi are primary decomposers in nature and have the power to break down wood. Parts of the mushroom, called mycelium-hyphae, can bore into wood and break down cellulose. Primary saprophytes grow on logs and freshly dead, un-decayed trees. Secondary saprophytes grow on forest duff and decaying logs. Mycorrhizal fungi grow in association with roots of trees, he said.

Forests depend on a wide variety of mushrooms growing in symbiosis with trees. Mycorrhizal fungi growing on roots greatly increase surface area of the root system, transferring water and nutrients to the plant. They break down humus and make it available to plants for increased plant vigor, Ryno said.

“Fungi have very different metabolism from plants and animals,” he said. “They are one of the few anti-carcinogenic foods. There are so many things we still don’t know about their unique compounds. There’s an unknown kingdom of mushrooms living underground. We only see the fruiting bodies, the mushrooms above ground. Many species are unnamed or unstudied,” he said.

For information on the Kitsap Peninsula Mycological Society, call (360) 731-0975.

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