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Sidebar: Hunting for Mushrooms

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Peter Kennedy and his students go on their forays for mushrooms in the fall—at times no farther than the campus ravine or especially next door in Tryon Creek State Park. “The park is a real resource for us,” he says. “We’re super lucky to have it so close to campus.” At other times, they go farther afield. Where that will be depends on the trees and fungi they’re looking for, Kennedy says—north to the Olympic peninsula for alders, for example.

Lately, Kennedy and his students have been hunting for local species of truffle, which are like the delectable varieties in the way they grow underground, but in fact “won’t add anything to your meal,” says Kennedy.

To find truffles, Kennedy and his students peel their eyes for pits in the ground that bear the marks of tiny paws, which Kennedy refers to as “small mammal digs.” Usually, Kennedy surmises, the paw prints belong to squirrels, which pinpoint truffles by smell. “You sort of follow behind them,” says Kennedy. The typical surfeit of truffles growing together makes for many pits where a squirrel has quit early and left a truffle in place. “They may have a bite or two out of them,” Kennedy says.

The missing bite serves the fungus that made the truffle because the swallower will disperse spores wherever it next defecates. Kennedy says that, in a pinch, he will identify a truffle species from its spores under the microscope back at the lab, but he and his students prefer to find them whole.

Kennedy says he was fortunate during his postdoc at Point Reyes to discover the partnership between ECMs and Bishop pine because it involves only a few key fungal players, all of which can be propagated from spores in the lab. If that were true generally of ECM spores, he says, porcini, chanterelles, morels, and the prized varieties of truffles wouldn’t have to be wild-gathered because they’d be farmed.

“My dad is always giving me a hard time,” says Kennedy. His father can’t believe the lengths his son will go to for mushrooms that he wouldn’t look twice at himself. “He thinks I should study something tasty,” Kennedy says. However, in the vicinity of McMinnville, he recommends you try the Joel Palmer House. “He makes this slippery jack soup that’s out of this world.”

Photos courtesy of Kabir Peay, Ph.D.

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