Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Svampvänner (mushroom friends)

A Report from the Swedish Mycological Society Week 16-22 September 2013

Words & Images* by Alison Pouliot

A lectotype for Homo sapiens?
Statue of Carl Linnaeus in
Humlegården Park, Stockholm.
Sweden - the home of both Carl Linneaus and Elias Magnus Fries - seemed a promising land to participate in the Mykologiveckan, or mycological week of the Swedish Mycological Society this glorious European autumn. Having spent the last dozen years trying to get my tongue around multisyllabic German fungal common names such as gallertfleischiges Stummelfüßchen (Crepidotus mollis), I was then confronted by further linguistic gymnastics with Swedish names including rödskivig kanelspindelskivling (Cortinarius semisanguineus). So much for Linneaus' system of binomial nomenclature! This is, however, my only quibble (but in truth, delight in the quizzical riddles of language) of the most memorable few days among some of the friendliest and most knowledgeable mycologists and fungal enthusiasts I've ever encountered.

Sweden has a long mycological history with the Stockholm Mycological Society founded in 1879 and the Swedish Mycological Society (SMF) exactly a century later. The SMF aims to promote knowledge of fungi as well as producing the Swedish Mycological Journal, Svensk Mykologisk Tidskrift, and runs an annual Mykologiveckan among other activities.

This year's mycological week was held about 40km southwest of Stockholm at Hagaberg in the municipality of Södertälje (possibly better known for the manufacture of Scania trucks than fungal curiosities). A coterie of folk in gumboots (fancy Swedish lace-up ones) with dangling magnifiers and baskets slung over arms was a definite clue I'd arrived at the right place. Within moments I was bustled into a van with a dozen others and off we headed, whizzing by glistening lakes and forests of turning birch.

In a similar format to many mycological gatherings, each day began with a foray to various designated field sites. Sweden has various nature reserves and national parks in close proximity to Stockholm and many of these are among the 70 field sites that were surveyed by the 70 participants during the week. The country's 28 national parks and 3200+ nature reserves protect about 12% of Sweden's ecosystems, roughly equating with the area of land protected in Australia.

Map of sites surveyed for fungi.
On arrival at the Stora Alsjön Nature Reserve I was delighted to note that the reserve's information board acknowledged the Third F in mentioning that rare Sarcodon species (S .fennicus, S. glaucopus, S. versipellis, S.lundellii and S. scabrosus) are protected. Stora Alsjön is recognised for its high natural values and also has the highest number of RED-list fungi in coniferous forests within the Södertälje municipality. The group then dispersed into the forests and mires and among the lichen-carpeted boulders, sporadically reappearing with whoops of excitement at the discovery of a rare or curious fungal specimen. RED-listed species recorded included Boletopsis grisea, Tricholoma colossus and Sarcodon squamosus.

A perfect lunch spot in
Stora Alsjön Nature Reserve.
As well as being an exceedingly handsome fungus, Sarcodon squamosus has also been used to prepare dyes.

 Tricholoma colossus is ectomycorrhizal with Pinus sylvestris and is characteristic of 'natural' or 'near-natural' oligotrophic pine forests. It is considered critically endangered on a European scale,
its main threats being silvicultural intensification and eutrophication.

Sweden has developed an interesting system to assess biodiversity based on various indicator or 'signal' species that includes flora, fauna and fungi. The system is used to locate and identify forests and ecosystems with high natural values. Some species, for example, Phellinus pini, Tricholoma matsutake and Fomitopsis rosea, are indicative of old forests.

Although fungal foraying is rarely considered a sport (relative, for example, to the twitchers' 700 club) there was a definite sense of spirited competition between foray groups to see which might record the greatest number of species; the record being a remarkable 210 species on one foray. While Australia may be able to boast a greater (predicted) fungal diversity than Sweden, the sheer biomass of fungi in Sweden is something less commonly experienced in Australia, at least in dryer regions. Old logs were literally covered in hundreds if not thousands of fruiting bodies of various Hypholoma, Coprinus, Armillaria and Flammulina species among others, all working away relentlessly to convert wood to soil. Among the mycorrhizal species, fruit bodies were encountered with every step, members of the Russulaceae being especially abundant.

Following the field trips, the rest of the afternoons were spent with noses jammed in microscopes as the identities of collected specimens were diagnosed, debated and databased. As with most mycological societies, there are those who are interested in the whole gamut of fungi and those who specialise in particular groups. Birgitta Wasstorp is one of Europe's most experienced Russula experts, Bo Nylén specialises in the genus Agaricus, Åke Strid with Aphyllophorales, Lennart Söderberg with Ramaria and Lennart Vessberg with Hygrocybe. Chairman of the Stockholm Mycological Society, Mattias Andersson, is an expert on fungal dyes, especially the various species of the Cortinarius subgenus Dermocybe that contain the different anthraquinone dyes. Active fungal-dyer, Karin Engerström-Gerstel was attired in fungal-dyed hand-knitted morels and russulas! Both participated in the International Fungi and Fibre Symposium held in Denmark, Australia in 2003.

Once identified, species were documented and placed on a table for the gate-keepers to confirm identifications before they were assigned to the display room. On the final day, these specimens formed an exhibition for the public to experience the great diversity of fungi found in local forests.

 Karin Engerström-Gerstel
in 'mushroom-wear'.
Hygrocybe punicea is possibly the largest member of the genus.

Boletus luridus forms mycorrhizal relationships deciduous trees including birch, beech and oak.

The following day I forayed with a different group in the Lida Nature Reserve, led by Michael Krikorev. Among the old spruce (Picea abies) and pine (Pinus sylvestris) we came across RED-listed species including, Pycnoporellus fulgens, Boletopsis leucomelaena, Hydnellum suaveolens, Artomyces pyxidatus and Onnia tomentosa. The first two species along with Lactarius scrobiculatus are also 'signal' species that were found on the foray.
 Michael Krikorev holding
Amanita magnivolvata.
 Johan Möllegård sniffs a Russula sp.

Swedish Mycological Society forayers at Lida Nature Reserve.

The Kantarell and the Krona

One notable difference between a Fungimap conference and a Mykologiveckan is that there is a second element to Swedish foraying - foraging for edible fungi, especially Cantharellus cibarius and Craterellus tubaeformis. While some participants are interested only in taxonomy and some only in edible species, many were interested in both taxonomy and the collection of edible species and were hence armed with collection boxes for specimens and baskets for edible species. The Alle Mans Rätt (The Rights of All Men) is an ancient Swedish customary law that allows any person (presumably including those sans a Y chromosome) to freely roam and pick mushrooms and berries for one's own consumption.

 A basket of freshly plucked
Craterellus tubaeformis
and Hydnum repandum.
The person deemed responsible for piquing interest in edible fungi in Sweden was the French Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jules Bernadotte (later crowned Karl XIV Johan). Famine, resulting from centuries of warfare in continental Europe and Russia, has historically been a driver of edible mushroom foraging in many European countries including Sweden. While, according to Swedish Freak, the new king encouraged the consumption of Boletus edulis (renamed to Karl-johans-svamp in King Karl's honour) it is definitely the chanterelle, or Kantarell, that seems to carry more currency than the Krona in Sweden today.

 One of the most exciting aspects of the field trips for me personally was the incredible diversity and abundance of lichens. There seemed to be barely a square centimetre of soil, rock or wood that hadn't been colonised by at least one and usually multiple species of this group.
 Lichen-moss wonderland in Stora Alsjön Nature Reserve
Cladonia coccifera is recognisable
by its bright red apothecia.
Cladonia rangiferina is a primary food source for reindeer.

Rhizocarpon geographicum on pink granite.


 Fungal Conservation in Sweden

While fungi have been included in biodiversity conservation in Sweden if the RED-listing of 746 species is anything to go by, the reality is that - as in Australia - there is only one mycologist position with a focus on macrofungal taxonomy, ecology and conservation, shared by Anders Dahlberg and Michael Krikorev. The fungi, however, are relatively well-known given the long tradition of mycology and the enormous contribution of interested fungal enthusiasts. There are believed to be 12,000 plus species of fungi in Sweden (including 5000 macromycetes and 2000 lichenised fungi) with most of the 5000 macromycetes having being considered for the 2010 Red List.

Many issues related to forestry and the clearing of old-growth forest pose a threat to RED-listed fungi, especially given that 85% of RED-listed fungal species occur in forests. As in Australia, those species restricted to old dead wood are especially threatened by the removal or destruction of their habitat. Another major threat is changed soil nitrogen levels.
 Leccinum vulpinum.
Mycena galericulata.
Stropharia hornemannii.
In an effort to increase public awareness of biodiversity, in 2002 the Swedish Parliament commissioned the Swedish Species Information Centre (SSIC) to identify all species of multicellular flora, fauna and fungi - focussing especially on poorly known groups - as part of the Swedish Taxonomy Initiative. However, despite the recording of 2,400 species new to Sweden (with at least 900 of these being new to science) the program has been crippled by recent budget cuts and its future looks bleak. However, various other conservation initiatives persist and every fifth year the SSIC reviews Sweden's RED List that currently has 4127 species listed and proposes new species.

Following the conference I headed to Stockholm to see the Wild Wonders of Europe photographic exhibition, the 'largest photography-based conservation communication initiative in the World', which featured biodiversity images from 48 European countries. While rewilding remains a controversial subject, the exhibition contained some powerful images and conservation success stories. Fungi only featured once, with an image of Marasmius androsaceus (horsehair parachute mushroom) from Pripyatski National Park in Belarus, but a least that's one more fungus image than in many exhibitions on biodiversity.

During my stay in Sweden, I thought I'd try and understand something of Swedish history via Kerstin Ekman's famous novel, 'The Forest of Hours', especially given I spent a week hiking in the world heritage-listed Skule Forest where the book is set. Its central character, a paradoxical troll named Skord, lives in the forest on the outermost fringes of society among the misfits and eccentrics (mycologists?). In the fading light on my last evening in this other-worldly forest, I admittedly made more than one sideways glance among the ferny glades for a wayward troll. I captured my last photograph of an especially lanky Stropharia semiglobata sprouting from a pile of moose pellets. As I wrangled my tripod into position, I felt a distinctive squishiness beneath my left knee, only to discover that I'd knelt in something else's freshly laid and impressively large excreta. For the record, I photographed the semi-squashed deposit. Later that evening, in the splendid company of Jacob Näslund, who once owned much of the land before it was acquired by the Swedish government and labelled as world heritage in 1972, I showed him the picture of my knelt-in deposit. His moustached lip curled into a grin as he chuckled and casually commented 'Well, that'll of course be a bear...'. Gulp. I'm certainly glad neither bear nor troll tapped me on the shoulder in the twilight forest as my shutter snapped shut on my coprophilic subject.

Stropharia semiglobata in moose pellets.
A troll lair?
Another troll lair?

Now in the supposed safety of a reinforced titanium capsule at 35,000 feet, I type this piece while listening to a track from psybient Swedish duo Carbon Based Life Forms. An overdubbed voice repeatedly asks 'What about the forests'? A pertinent question. What about the forests? With the last tracts of 'old-growth' forest under threat in Sweden, Australia and elsewhere, what are the ways in which we might consider, re-imagine and activate the conservation of the fungi that inhabit these forests? Of all biodiversity? How can we incorporate the many ways they are considered, experienced and valued by mycologists and mycophagists, farmers and foresters, bears and trolls and countless others?

Carbon Based Life Forms was recommended by Anders Dahlberg's delightful son, Jonas. 'What a great band name', I'd commented as we tucked into some tasty chanterelles. Jonas had looked at me sideways, then resignedly yet graciously commented, ' Yeah, all biologists say that...'

What about the forests?

Huge thanks to Mattias Andersson, Michael Krikorev, Bengt Boström, Johan Möllegård, Lena Wallqvist and Jan Karp for their help with this article and to all those at the Mykologiveckan for their hospitality, enthusiasm and expertise. Also to Anders Dahlberg for showing me the forests north of Uppsala and for accommodating me.

*Most images available for use, please contact Alison for details.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a very enjoyable adventure - great photos, thankyou!