We have chosen Laccaria mushrooms to represent the RMC this year as they not only have many characteristics which represent the values and practices of Radical Mycology, but they are also largely unappreciated by many mycophiles. Laccaria is a genus of common, mycorrhizal mushrooms that play crucial roles in forest ecosystems worldwide, providing mineral nutrients to trees, predating on insects, supplying food and medicine to humans and other animals, accumulating metals, and reviving disturbed sites.
Laccarias grow in ectomycorrhizal association with a great variety of trees, including oaks, pines, spruces, poplars, willows, birches, Douglas fir, beeches and hemlocks. They are some of the few mycorrhizal mushrooms that fruit easily in culture, when accompanied by a mycorrhizal associate. Because of this and the relative ease with which they are cultured, they have been used extensively in silviculture for establishing tree seedlings, providing them with resistance to disease and drought, and increased access to mineral nutrients and water.
Some Laccarias, such as L. bicolor, engage in late stage decomposition of animal carcasses, including mammals and anadromous fish such as salmon, which have died in the woods after spawning in small creeks. They transport nitrogen from these carcasses into the roots of the trees with which they associate. Excavations under fruitings amongst animal remains have uncovered dense mats of mycorrhizal root tips. Laccaria also harvest nitrogen for their associated tree partners by preying on tiny, soil dwelling insects called springtails. In isotope studies, it has been found that up to 1/4 of the nitrogen in the needles of trees associated with Laccarias came from the springtails.
Laccarias are recognized as pioneer species, at times regenerating damaged and disturbed sites. They tend to be prolific in young forests and less present in mature forests. They are the most commonly observed ectomycorrhizal mushrooms associated with pine and poplar in reclaimed tar sands in northern Alberta, and they are highly tolerant to creosote.
Laccaria amethysta is an Arsenic accumulator, collecting up to 146.9 mg/kg. It also accumulates radioactive Cesium isotopes. Otherwise, Laccarias are edible, abundant and tasty. Despite potential heavy metal contamination, due to their abundance and ubiquity, Laccarias have been a valuable food source in many traditional cultures across Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe. However, they remain little known as edibles among North American mushroom hunters. They have been well studied, however, with Laccaria laccata being the first mutualistic mushroom to have its entire genome sequenced.
Medicinally, they are cancer inhibiting, relatively rich in lipids, especially phosphatydl serine, which plays a major role in myelin sheath and brain synapse health. Their essence helps with inner transformation by bringing out the inner poisons. It opens the 3rd eye, leading to positive self-awareness, according to fungal essence practitioner, Korte Phi.
Sexually, Laccarias are unique in having two nuclei per spore. Some Laccaria species have two spores per basidium, and others have four.
Besides their ecological radness, Laccarias are beautiful, with rough textures on the stalk and often on the cap. The colors range from warm orange browns to deep amethyst and mauve. They are both highly variable and distinctive. They tend to be very difficult to identify to species, though one who knows Laccaria can often recognize them as such easily.
For more information on this awesome and under-appreciated genus, see the following sources:
- Tom Volk’s Fungi of the month August 2010: http://botit.botany.wisc.edu/toms_fungi/aug2010.html
- Dugan, Frank M., Conspectus of World Ethnomycology: Fungi in Ceremonies, Crafts, Diets, Medicines, and Myths. The American Phytopathological Society, 2011, St. Paul.
- Fortin, J. André; Plenchette, Christian; Piché, Yves; Mycorrhizas: The New Green Revolution. Éditions Multimondes, 2009, Québec.
- Kroeger, Paul; Kendrick, Bryce; Ceska, Oluna, Roberts, Christine; The Outer Spores: Mushrooms of Haida Gwaii. Mycologue Publications, 2012, Sidney-by-the-Sea.
- Mueller, Gregory M. PhD., The Mushroom Genus Laccaria in North America, Department of Botany, the Field Museum.
- T.E. Reimchen, D. Mathewson, M.D. Hocking, J. Moranand and D. Harris (2003) Isotopic evidence for enrichment of salmon-derived nutrients in vegetation, soil and insects in riparian zones in coastal British Columbia. American Fisheries Society Symposium 34: 59-69.
- Rogers, Robert, RH (AHG), The Fungal Pharmacy, The Complete Guide to Medicinal Mushrooms & Lichens of North America. North Atlantic Books, 2011, Berkeley.