BY RYAN JAMES & LIZ WATTS
The Alberta Mycological Society (AMS), founded in 1987, has a particular fondness for fungi and mushrooms. Our membership is large and stable with approximately 500 members provincewide. We hold an annual Mushroom Expo at the University of Alberta Botanic Garden where we introduce people to mushrooms with displays of currently fruiting fungi, provide mushroom tastings, and lead forays in the gardens. In 2019 we had our best attended expo ever, with 1,300 attendees, despite showery weather! Unfortunately, the 2020 Mushroom Expo and our Great Alberta Mushroom Foray (GAMF) were cancelled due to COVID-19.
GAMF is a citizen science initiative that surveys mushroom biodiversity in a different area of Alberta each year. Through GAMF we have developed mushroom collection, preservation, and DNA sampling practices and techniques that are being adopted by other mushroom clubs across North America. GAMF is a great way to learn to identify mushrooms, which is critical to knowing which mushrooms are edible and which are poisonous. We have a saying: “There are old mushroom pickers and bold mushroom pickers, but no old bold mushroom pickers.” To help those new to mushroom identification we offer an “Introduction to Mushrooms” course at every GAMF. Our 2020 GAMF, which was scheduled for Zama City in northeastern Alberta, was cancelled due to public health safety concerns and travel restrictions preventing mycologists from the U.S. travelling to the event.
We hold regular mushroom forays for members throughout the summer. Our most active regions are Edmonton, Red Deer, and Calgary. The 2020 foray season was challenging, but we found responsible ways to continue these activities and give members an opportunity to get outside. We created a set of foray rules based on public health guidelines. Foray participants had to wear masks during check-in and check-out procedures, and during post-foray mushroom identification. Hands also had to be sanitized before touching any common surfaces. While foraying, participants were asked to stick with their travel cohort. We saw an increase in member participation, with many forays having waitlists due to participant number capping. The rules were well respected and led to a safe, socially distanced foray season.
Our Speaker Series moved online, with webinars on fungal reproduction, fungal conservation in Alberta, mushroom cultivation, mushroom identification, and being “bear smart” while foraying in the woods. Our delayed annual general meeting also went virtual in October. We emerged with a new board full of diverse experience and skillsets. We’re in a good position to continue offering mushroom-themed nature activities.
Despite COVID-19, AMS has remained resilient by adapting to the new, challenging environment. We were successful in safely encouraging Albertans to explore the outdoors and engage with the natural world.
Ryan James is a Professional Biologist and the current Foray Coordinator for the AMS. Liz Watts is a microbiologist, clinical researcher, and AMS Board Member at Large in addition to her new role as President of Nature Alberta.
This article originally ran in Nature Alberta Magazine – Winter 2021