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Mushroom club seeks to identify new species in Murrysville's Pleasant Valley Park

Patrick Varine
| Friday, Aug. 25, 2017, 11:45 a.m.
Above, an Amanita rubescens, or 'blusher' mushroom, found by club members during an Aug. 13 walk along the Braddock Trail.
Photo by John Stuart
Above, an Amanita rubescens, or 'blusher' mushroom, found by club members during an Aug. 13 walk along the Braddock Trail.
Above, an Artomyces pyxidatus, or crown-tipped coral mushroom, found on one of the club's walks.
Photo by Mary Plakidas
Above, an Artomyces pyxidatus, or crown-tipped coral mushroom, found on one of the club's walks.
Above, a crown-tipped coral mushroom, found during one of the club's walks.
Photo by Mary Plakidas
Above, a crown-tipped coral mushroom, found during one of the club's walks.

A local club is looking to take people for a walk on the wild side.

Wild mushrooms, that is.

Members of the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club will partner with Friends of Murrysville Parks to host a Sept. 2 mushroom walk through Pleasant Valley Park.

Club President Richard Jacob of Fox Chapel joined six years ago after finding some edible morel mushrooms in his backyard.

“I realized that if they were in my backyard, I'd be able to find more in the woods,” said Jacob, who has lived in Boston, Philadelphia and now Pittsburgh after moving from the United Kingdom.

“I joined the club in hopes of learning how to find them.”

The Sept. 2 event will be a hike through the Pleasant Valley woods, where club members and participants will collect mushrooms and try to identify as many as possible.

“We have lists of fungi from all around western Pennsylvania,” Jacob said.

“Some samples, we'll take pictures, and some we even take DNA samples. We use a technique called DNA barcoding, extracting a little bit of DNA that we send off to some academic collaborators.”

A small portion of the fungal DNA is sequenced and made into a unique identifying barcode.

“We compare that to other species already in the public database, and if it's not in there, we add it,” Jacob said.

Ultimately, the group is seeking varieties that may have previously been identified as European in nature.

Looking at the DNA can confirm whether a species has not been previously discovered.

While the club hasn't identified or had a chance to name any new species, some of the samples they've sent for DNA sequencing have aided in identifying new species.

“We found an Amanita fulva mushroom variety, and through the sequencing the North American one is now called Amanita amerifulva,” Jacob said.

Anyone looking to go mushroom hunting for the first time — and especially if they are seeking wild mushrooms to cook with — would do well to attend the walk, Jacob said.

“There are a small number of mushrooms — we call them choice edibles — and there's really nothing else that looks like them,” he said. “You're unlikely to make a mistake in identifying them. Others are edible, but we don't advise it because it can be easy to make mistakes.”

There are a small number of Amanita varieties, for example, which are edible. But Jacob doesn't recommend that people eat any of them.

“Other varieties — one is called ‘The Destroying Angel,' and you can tell from the name, that one's not good — can be very poisonous,” he said.

The walk is open to the public. For more on the club, visit its website, WPAMushroomClub.org .

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862, pvarine@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.

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