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MLA Full: "In search of the Destroying Angel || The Mushroom Hunt." YouTube, uploaded by thebrainscoop, 1 November 2019,
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Mushrooms are rad. We went to the local forest preserve to find some. A fun time was had by all
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Executive Producer, Creator, Host:
Emily Graslie

Producer, Director, Editor:
Sheheryar Ahsan

Production Assistant, Content Developer, Writer:
Raven Forrest

Interview with:
Dr. Patrick Leacock

Illustration by:
Isabel Griffin

Production Support:
Vinícius Penteado
This episode is filmed on location at the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois.
Emily: 20 million trees. The team trees project has a goal to raise 20 million dollars by the end of 2020 in order to plant 20 million trees by 2022. Every dollar plants a tree made possible by the Arbor Day Foundation. Which is amazing because trees are pillars of their ecosystems, affecting nearly every organism that lives near them including one of my favorite kingdoms of life, Fungi.

I'm spending the day in a Cook County Forest Preserve with mushroom expert Dr. Patrick Leacock to talk about how to collect mushrooms, how mycologists, which are mushroom scientists, study them and the relationship between the mushrooms and the forest. The Chicago area has 1,200 species of mushrooms Which makes it one of the most mushroom diverse regions in the country and many of these are found right here in our publicly protected forests.

Emily: where are we right now? Patrick: We're at a Forest Preserve outside Chicago in Cook County lots of forest preserves around this city and they're all excellent places to look for fungi. Basically any natural habitat was going to have mushrooms another fungi.

Emily: But not everybody can go out and just collect mushrooms willy-nilly that's you need a scientific permit Patrick: Right,  for this Forest Preserve we have a permit for research and education, but for collecting wild mushrooms to eat you need permission whether that's public or private, you know, state, federal, county, they all have different regulations. So you have to look at them up for your area.

Emily: So when you come out here, you're not just your average mushroom collector you're doing this for scientific purposes, so you have a lot of things that you need when you're collecting mushrooms What are some of these things? Patrick: We have tackle boxes, pen or pencil, some kind of collecting knife for digging up a mushroom or cutting it off the wood. I have got a camera, compass, whistle, ruler, got a GPS. We get a precise location like within a foot where something is and I can go back the next year and find it again.

And then paper bags, wax bags, whatever you want to put mushrooms in we don't recommend plastic because the mushrooms sweat and decompose faster in the plastic.

Emily: Okay, and you have gloves and bug spray. Patrick: Gloves and bug sprays for bugs. Yeah because there's ticks and mosquitoes and poison ivy here.

Emily: It's safety first. Patrick: Yeah safety first,.

Emily: So it's kind of an involved process. Patrick: So what we do versus just collecting for eating, we record actually where we find stuff and we write down little notes on what it was growing on so we're collecting data as we collect the mushroom because we documenting it and it's gonna go in their collections.

Emily: Right. Well, I've never been on mushroom hunt. I'm excited to go out there and see what Cook County has to offer. Patrick: Yeah, let's go

Emily: There are around 120,000 named species of fungi on earth with an estimate of millions more species yet to be described. This includes molds, yeasts, rusts, smuts, sac fungi and mushrooms. Mushrooms are probably the most recognizable member of this incredibly diverse group of organisms they live out of sight as thin web like threads called hyphae. until they're ready to disperse their spores and then they emerge above-ground as mushrooms and we're on our way to meet some of the more charismatic ones. Patrick: So we're here in the oak Woodland and the two major oaks we have here for this site are red oak and white oak and they have a chemical difference in the bark and the fungi pick up on that so there's certain fungi associated with white oaks and certain fungi with red oak.

And this is a very common bark fungus on white oak, so this would be on white oak and Baroque and swamp white oak but not on the different kinds of red oak and this is called smooth patch fungus because it eats the outer bark and then the Bark falls off and leaves the smoother bark patches. I mean the reproductive parts are these little white fruit bodies, forming spores.

Emily: Does this damage the tree? Patrick: it makes this bark thinner. It's not technically a parasite because it's eating dead bark, but it does make the tree maybe a little more susceptible to fire because the thick bark is a fire retardant.

Emily: Wow. Patrick: This is a Laccaria, this is our biggest Laccaria. It's called okra purpurea because it's okra on top and purple underneath.

Emily: Oh, it's pretty Patrick: So if we pick it up, you can see that purple color.

Emily: Has little gills. Patrick: Yeah, this is a big gilled mushroom, if you feel the gills are waxy

Emily: Yeah. Waxing gills. Patrick: So and this is one of the fungi that our mycorrhizal with trees so they have a mutualistic symbiosis with the tree roots. They're feeding water and nutrients of the tree and the tree is giving the fungus sugars.

Emily: Oh, they are buddies. Patrick: So about a third of the mushrooms in the forest here Have that relationship with trees.

Emily: Wow, that's so interesting. Patrick: And oak trees are our main mycorrhizal partner for these woods, the oak woodland

Emily: So this mushroom needs oak trees to be happy. Patrick: It needs a variety of trees But here it's with the oak trees, yeah. This is hen of the woods or Griffola frondosa, and it's a root parasite here on this white oak tree.

Emily: Oh Why is it called hen of the woods? Patrick: Because when it's fresh, it looks like a ruffled hen.

Emily: So that you mentioned this is an old mushroom How can you tell it's old? Patrick: If you felt it would be squishy and probably have a lot of bugs in it

Emily: So you wouldn't eat that. Patrick: No, it's like rotten food. The other people named, people use for this means dancing mushroom.

Emily: Oh, it's a party mushroom. No, not that kind of party mushroom. Patrick: No. We don't have those party mushrooms.

So we're on the other side of the tree from that other one, this is hen of the woods also, but this is young. So this is maybe half or quarter size It'll grow up larger and be a good edible size.

Emilty: Is it people coming out here and taking edible mushrooms? And taking them home to eat. Is there a problem in areas like the Forest Preserve? Patrick: The different landowners county and state and national don't want people in there harvesting mushrooms.

Part of it is Disturbing the soil because if you disturb the soil in your and walking on plants and stuff you're impacting the soil community So that's a bigger disturbance than harvesting the mushroom because the mushroom is making spores But the mushroom is actually living on the roots. So the actual individual is down in the ground. You're not removing the individual just its reproductive parts.

Emily: Oh and that's what people eat. Patrick: Yep. Yeah, you're eating mushroom sexual parts They are sexual organs. So we found another type of mushroom over here it's also mycorrhizal with the trees.

So this is an Amanita mushroom. It's a type of gilled mushroom and Amanitas all have a universal veil that covers the whole mushroom when they're young. So, in depending on the Amanita you get veil material left behind this one leaves this Cup at the base So the whole Universal veil its here, down at the base.

Emily: So it erupts out of that. Patrick: Yes So the veil is like an egg stage and the mushroom hatches out of that leaves the eggshell and vulva.

Emily: And when you say it's a gilled mushroom, you mean like it has gills.. Patrick: There are gills underneath where the spores are made.

Emily: Classic mushroom. Patrick: Like a classic mushroom, the old definition of mushroom as a gilled mushroom

Emily: Patrick, what's this? What's this one? Patrick: This is another Amanita, but you can see it looks quite different It's yellow, a little bit of reddish on it And in this one instead of a nice vulva at the base the universal veil breaks up and leaves what we call warts on the cap, little patches So the vulva is less firm and just breaks up as the mushroom expanses. So some Amanitas like other things they're edible some species are edible in some species are poisonous, you need to know which species instead of just that it's an Amanita.

Emily: Yeah, that's an important distinction Patrick: You don't want to play games with Amanitas because some of them are deadly

Emily: No, but these are like pretty classic mushroom shapes. Patrick: Yeah, It's a gill mushroom with a cap and stem and our little ring

Emily: It's cute. It's got a little skirt Is that a technical term or did I just make that up? Patrick: The technical term is annulus, for a ring.

Emily: Or skirts, mushroom skirts. Patrick: So this is something cool We saw it up north a couple weeks ago and I don't see it around Chicago much, but this is Leotia and they're called jelly babies by the British because they have a version of gummy bears that they call jelly babies if you feel it, it's very gelatinous like a gummy bear.

Emily: Ohh, it's squishy. Patrick: Yeah, and that's an Ascomycete. So it has a different way of making spores So it's making spores on this head

Emily: Oh instead of underneath.  Interesting. Patrick, this one is pretty charismatic. Patrick: Yeah, this is Mushrooms come in every color. This is one of the purple ones or violet and this is a Cortinarius So this if you're going out hunting edible mushrooms There's groups like Cortinarius and Amanita that you want to learn to avoid because some of these are poisonous, and a few are deadly so luckily mushrooms don't cause too many deaths each year but a few.

Emily: you know, I think that's a good message for anybody who's interested in learning how to identify and collect mushrooms, especially if you're planning on eating them is that some of them can kill you. Patrick: Right, depending on your region There should be some kind of mushroom field guide which would point out what's edible and what's poisonous so you could learn both.

Emily: This one's pretty Patrick: Yeah, that's bright yellow. This is another popular edible This is called the honey mushroom because of the color. It's Armillaria, the genus name, and we have several species of those. They're all tree parasites.

So this is living here on this dead that are dying oak tree so this is a parasite on a tree and it can send out cords extensions of itself to find another tree and then colonize that tree and this is the humongous fungus. I don't know if you've heard about that. Yeah so the first one they found was 37 acres up in Michigan and then they found one that were a couple square miles out in Oregon where it was one individual that spread from tree to tree to tree over a very long time and this is one of the biggest fungi area of size of it covers.

Emily: Good job, fungi Is that would that make this sort of mushroom one of the largest living organisms? Patrick: Right. Yes, and but it depends on how you, I mean, the biggest like vertebrate is like a whale,  the biggest plant is like an Aspen tree clone and this is one of the biggest fungi As far as area of size it covers.

Emily: Good job fungi, the humongous fungus So, Patrick, we have had quite the successful foray out here in the forest preserves, And you have done a lot of work in this area Just trying to document the mushroom by diversity Patrick: So we've here sixteen or more years documenting the fungi in this forest preserve outside Chicago, and this is just a small sample of what can be found here research on fungi is many decades behind plants because fungi come up periodically, they're not like out all the time, you have to repeatedly visit a place to get all the species recorded in several years. I marked out a twenty five square meter area. So a quarter acre of woods can have 300 species of fungi

Emily: That's amazing. Patrick: But it takes too many years to find them all.

Emily: Do you have any estimates for how many undescribed or new to science species of fungi might be out there? Patrick: Most fungi are undescribed. So yes to match for fungi, that's the whole kingdom macro fungi mushrooms and micro fungi. We know about five or ten percent of the diversity.

Emily: So we have 90 percent of fungi species that are unknown to science. Patrick: But that includes all the micro fungi or little plant parasites and little tiny things in the tropics and everywhere.

Emily: So say you're a volunteer, you're a viewer of the program, you just really love mushrooms, you want to get involved and participate in some of this research and collection and biodiversity. How could somebody do that? Patrick: So one way is to find your nearest Mushroom Club, so I work with the Illinois Mycological Association. I also work with the North American Mycological Association. which is like the umbrella group and they have a National 4-h year to do a different state each year and we finds 300 to 500 species in three days

Emily: And finding mushrooms can be really exciting. Like I picked up this and then you you told me what it was. Patrick: Yep, so you got a bunch of good edibles. You got a bunch of mediocres and you've got this thing.

So this is what we call the destroying angel. She's the one of the deadly ammonite is it's all white It tastes good smells great, but it destroys your liver.

Emily: They're so pretty. Join a mushroom Club. Hang out with Patrick It still has brains on it.