the Puffball, Volume 16, Number 3

News From Around the World

Mushrooms in Space

On April 28th of this year an Associated Press news release had an article concerning the latest space shuttle launch. It mentioned that one of the two German astronauts aboard put some tiny mushrooms into a gravity-creating centrifuge. He also left other mushrooms completely exposed to weightlessness in order to compare the two groups after the mission.

My eldest son was scheduled to do an extra-credit report for his school, so I'd mentioned to him that he might want to find out more information on this particular experiment. On calling NASA, they said that there wasn't anything listed in the flight guide on "mushrooms", but suggested that we call the German Embassy since the Germans were in charge of most of the experiments on this flight. They then referred us to the German Space Agency, who were gracious enough to send us some photo-copied literature on the experiment.

The experiment was specifically setup to see how mushrooms grew under a true weightless environment, also devoid of any light. The mushrooms used for the experiments were Flammulina velutipes, for their easy culture and handling. The abstract also mentioned that previous space missions had attempted the same basic experiment using Polyporus brumalis, but that in those experiments they had the mushrooms also growing in continuous illumination, potentially masking some of the effects of true weightless growth.

The sectioning and electron microscopy of the mushrooms will take place at the Technical University of Mčnchen at Weihenstephan, Germany. The results should be available in around six months or so, and we will try to update the results here, after the official publication by the authors of the experiment (B. Hock, V. Kern, J. Monzer, and E. Haindl).

Poisonous Plants

Dr. Robert Hoffman (associate director of the New York City Poison Center, and a clinical instructor in emergency medicine at the New York University School of Medicine) wrote a brief article for the Associated Press on April 30th on Poisonous plants, that also mentioned mushrooms.

In this article he stated "...A number of poisonous mushrooms, some quite deadly, look very similar to nonpoisonous varieties, and even experts can be fooled." (emphasis inserted by the Editor). Also stated was the fact that some varieties are safe in one part of the world, and poisonous in others. To sum up the prospect of eating wild mushrooms, he stated "As a rule, only eat agriculturally prepared mushrooms."

With articles such as this published in our national newspapers, it's no wonder that the United States has a fungo-phobia. While the statement about mushrooms being regionally poisonous is true to a very limited degree, the mushrooms in this category are extremely small. In fact, the only one I can think of off hand would be the false morel, Gyromitra esculenta, and I've personally always recommended against eating this mushroom. To quote the grandfather of mycophagy Charles McIlvaine (One Thousand American Fungi): "It is not probable that in our great food-giving country anyone will be narrowed to G. esculenta for a meal. Until such an emergency arrives, the species would be better let alone."

While I can't be sure exactly what Dr. Hoffman was referring to with his statement about experts being fooled, I can guess that he was pointing out the fact that certain mushrooms are very difficult to tell apart, even by experts. This would include mushrooms such as certain little brown Mycenas and Galerinas, certain little white Clitocybes, etc. This would not include mistaking a potentially poisonous mushroom for one being considered for the table. Even relative novices can safely eat Morels (Morchella sp.), Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius), Matsutakes (Armillaria ponderosa), Blewits (Clitocybe nuda), Honey Mushrooms (Armillariella mellea group), Shaggy Parasols (Lepiota rachodes), Shaggy Manes (Coprinus comatus), Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus), King Bolete (Boletus edulis), Cauliflower Mushrooms (Sparassis sp.), and many more.

Deadly Woods

Several of the local television stations had news stories on commercial pickers shooting at people that had come close to their picking grounds. With up to $1,000 a day possible during the peak of the Morel season (according to the story), some commercial pickers are apparently taking their prize territory very seriously. Most of the violence has been reported from the southern Oregon area, but we need to remember to be careful out there. This also points out the need to go out picking in groups rather and individually whenever possible.

News Clips

A raid in Mendocino County, California yielded in addition to 96 marijuana plants, 50 LSD tablets, and several loaded weapons, 37 grams of psilocybin mushrooms...


United Press International prints a weekly update on the status of the Morel season in Michigan during several of the key Morel months in the spring. This is a relative large listing of the major spots in Michigan. Tips are also included, such as: "Some tips for mushroom hunters: trilliums and other wildflowers are in bloom in northwest Michigan - look near these perennials for the elusive morel. Also - near elms and dead tree stumps or areas with especially sandy soil."


The 5/25/93 UPI Morel mushroom listing stated that Morels were at their prime in Northwest Michigan now, with other parts of the state expected to peak within a week. Also, according to this article, because of the cooler weather in the Upper Peninsula, the morel peak wasn't expected for another two weeks!


Reuters news agency stated on 5/23/93 that eleven people in Iran's western Kermanshah province died during the past week after eating poisonous mushrooms. It also stated that dozens of other people were taken to hospitals after eating mushrooms. It did not state what type of mushrooms were involved in the poisonings, but it did add that the Kermanshah inhabitants gather mushrooms each year, "despite the poison risks" (emphasis added by the Editor).


Two articles from the major news agencies had articles in which mushroom hunters found various things during their foraging. The first one in March was an article in which the mushroom hunters found bones belonging to a human possibly 300-400 years old. The second one on 5/21/93 told of a mushroom hunter that found the propeller blade from the small plane that crashed in Iowa in April killing South Dakota Gov. George Mickelson.


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Last updated November 6, 1995