While California’s drought has dried up vegetation throughout the state, rain arrived just in time to support new mushroom growth during the Fungus Fair Dec. 6 and 7 in Golden Gate Park.
The Mycological Society of San Francisco hosted its 45th annual Fungus Fair, attracting mushroom and fungus enthusiasts from all over the Bay Area.
Founded in 1950, the MSSF is a community dedicated to all things fungi, from preserving mycological habitats to sustaining the right to harvest mushrooms locally.
Jackie Shay is an SF State graduate student studying ecology, evolution and conservation biology with an emphasis in mycology and has been a volunteer at MSSF for two years.
“I want to teach people about fungus everyday for the rest of my life,” Shay said as she operated the microscope station where attendees examined microscopic fungal elements. “People are coming here to learn more or they know a lot and want to share their knowledge. It’s a really great place to learn and teach.”
Shay delved into the details of the current fungus she is studying at SF State, new species Marasmius androsaceus. Small crowds gathered around her microscope table on Saturday afternoon and listened to her description of how the tiny mushroom plays a huge role in aiding the natural decomposition in forests where leaf litter is abundant.
The two-day event provided cooking demonstrations, a fabric dyeing station, education on cultivation and informative discussions. Children and adults explored exhibits on mushroom cultivation, ecology and toxicology and were able to touch and inspect hundreds of recently harvested species of fungi on display.
Saturday was the less-crowded of the two-day event, and people perused the displays bordering the room with cups of mushroom soup in-hand. Children gathered in the center of the venue around the arts and crafts tables where they painted cardboard mushroom caps made of cut-up egg cartons and attached them to wine cork stems.
At the dyeing station, SF State ecology graduate and Fungus Fair volunteer Linda Dinneen pulled a reddish silk scarf from a five-gallon bucket mixture of mushrooms, miscellaneous plant parts and water that looked like maroon sludge.
“You pretty much soak the pieces of fabric in this bucket of dye that just comes from plant roots and mushrooms boiled in water,” Dinneen said. “You just leave your fabric soaking in the dye for an hour or more, depending on how dark you want it.”
Hundreds of additional mushrooms were displayed Sunday, attracting three times more attendees than the previous day, according to MSSF President David Gardella.
“There were around 250 different mushroom species collected on Friday and Saturday for the fair,” said SF State biology professor J.R. Blair, who has volunteered with the group for eight years and helped gather mushrooms for the festival.
The annual fair takes place at the end of the year, when the fungi flourish in dark, damp environments.
Thanh Dam, a third-year health education major at SF State and student of Blair’s World of Plants class, volunteered for the first time at the Fungus Fair this year.
“I never would’ve thought about volunteering here if professor Blair didn’t offer the opportunity,” Dam said. “I got to learn so much about mushrooms that I had no idea about. It was a really cool experience and I will definitely come back next year.”