Is there any connection between an atmospheric river and a book topping the B.C. bestsellers list?
It’s hard to answer that question because the Royal B.C. Museum handbook, Mushrooms of British Columbia, has been on this list for nine weeks.
However, after the monumental dump of rain from October 15 to 17, mushroom-bearing fungi were popping up all across Metro Vancouver. And perhaps not coincidentally, Andy MacKinnon and Kem Luther’s authoritative tome topped the weekly list produced by B.C. publishers.
For those wishing to identify fungi in their neighbourhoods, Mushrooms of British Columbia is ideal. That’s because it includes photographs of about 350 varieties, along with fairly detailed and readable descriptions. Best of all, the book informs readers whether the mushroom in question is poisonous.
The colourful fly agaric, for instance, is described as poisonous and hallucinogenic. Its warts sometimes wash off in the rain.
“This is the iconic mushroom featured in Alice in Wonderland and in Mario video games,” the authors write.
For those interested in edible mushrooms, there’s the cowboy’s handkerchief, which is white, convex, and around eight centimetres across. The golden-fringed waxy cap is less slimy and also edible.
“Warnings about the risks of foraging for and eating wild mushrooms abound,” MacKinnon and Luther declare. “But the actual danger, spread out over the wide variety of mushrooms and the frequency of their consumption, is not as great as is commonly believed (or represented in the media).
“In British Columbia, we have reliable records of four people dying from mushroom poisoning,” they continue. “These are all tragedies. But the real risks need to be kept in perspective.”
In fact, MacKinnon and Luther point out, more people die from getting lost. or are seriously injured while picking mushrooms. than die from consuming them.
Most of the land in B.C. is public, which means there are plenty of spaces for those who want to go foraging. And they’re not only in forests.
According to Mushrooms of British Columbia, microfungi are also found in fields, pastures, bogs, alpine areas, and deserts. And there are more than 3,000 species of mushrooms in B.C., exceeding the total in any other province.