By Genevieve Villamizar
Special to The Sopris Sun
Mycelium: “It’s the largest organism on the planet. It can heal you, feed you, clean up an oil spill — it can even shift your consciousness.”
– Louie Schwartzburg, pioneering timelapse nature cinematographer
Well, if that quote grabs you, explore more through The Aspen Center for Environmental Study’s annual mushroom event, kicking off Wednesday evening, July 26, with a free presentation of “Colorado Mushrooms: A World of Wonder at Your Feet,” 7-8:30 p.m. at Hallam Lake in Aspen.
Dr. Andrew Wilson, Assistant Curator of the Sam Mitchel Herbarium of Fungi at the Denver Botanic Gardens, will take you on “an imaginary hike through aspen groves, along waterways, on high passes and in the subalpine regions of spruce/fir while examining the animals, plants, and mushrooms we might find there,” promises ACES. “Learn identification clues and gain great appreciation for the amazing diversity of mushrooms in our local habitats.”
Dr. Wilson’s fascination with mushrooms, and their mycelium (root networks) began almost twenty years ago, along “a convoluted and serendipitous path, taking a course in Biology of Fungi at San Francisco State University,” he explains. “It really opened my eyes to this fascinating world that no one seemed to be paying attention to. By comparison, birds or flowers or other ‘charismatic’ organisms seemed to occupy an inordinate number of biologist’s attention. Mycology was this vast untapped field that seemed ‘just’ as important, if not more so, than studying something like lions, tigers, or bears.”
Composing 25 percent of the earth’s biomass, mycelium are key players in the ongoing recovery/rejuvenation processes of our planet. In breaking down organic matter and stone, they are the creators of soil, a foundation of life on this planet. Without mycelium, gone is the living communication system of plant life; gone are the plants, needing soil in which to root; gone are pollinators, needing plants for nectar and pollen; gone is our food, our sustenance. Gone: humans.
We’re not there yet, though!
Thursday and Friday, twelve early birds already got the worm and will enjoy two days afield with both Dr. Andrew and Dr. Vera Evenson, Curator of the Sam Mitchel Herbarium of Fungi at the Denver Botanic Gardens, for ACES’s annual Mushroom Field Workshop, July 27 and 28. Dr. Evenson has been guiding this field trip “since the early eighties,” she says, and is ecstatic to continue teaching with “the ACES staff, as well as the students, who appreciate our wonderful natural world so much, and are always ready to help, to come along on our forays, to respect nature in all its forms.”
Having published three tomes on Colorado and Rocky Mountain mushrooms, fungi are Dr. Evenson’s passion.
“I grew up on a small Montana ‘dirt’ farm and was always interested in what was growing out in the fields and along the rivers and creeks; how everything in nature is connected. Years later, my family turned me on to higher fungi by finding lots of beautiful, colorful mushrooms during camping trips.” Fungi continually excite her. “Especially,” she declares, “the absolutely essential role that fungi play in the lives of plants.”
The field workshop culminates in the free Annual Mushroom Fair on July 28 at Hallam Lake in Aspen. Workshop participants will sort, present, talk about and answer questions about the fungi specimens they’ve collected in the field. The public will learn all they’ve ever wanted to know about common and rare mushrooms, through identifying and examining them, and peering at them under microscopes.
As an aside, both Dr. Evenson and Dr. Wilson admit to still being most fascinated by the puffball mushroom!
For more information, visit aspennature.org or call 925-5756.