Cafe Champignon Cowra

By Trudi Refshauge

When you see a humble mushroom growing in a paddock or beside a fallen log, do you wonder if it’s toxic or beneficial, can it be eaten or will it kill you?

International fungi expert, Alison Pouliot, recently visited Cowra and was invited to run a workshop for interested locals by Mid Lachlan Landcare and Cowra Council’s Natural Resource Management Committee.

A mushroom is neither animal nor plant but contains properties from both kingdoms. Mushrooms are the external flowering part of fungi, which is a third kingdom on its own.

Farmers attending Pouliot’s talk were interested to learn mushrooms have an important function in agriculture. They were told fungi play a key role in holding soil particles apart, making it sponge like and habitable to invertebrates like worms allowing soil to be further aerated.

“Fungi have a root like structure known as mycelium which allows water to trickle down deeply into the soil. Without mycelium, soil becomes anaerobic,” said Pouliot.

Pouliot explained there is a nutrient exchange going on when fungi sits around plant roots.

“Fungi forms a sheath around the root systems of trees, grasses and other plants. This can increase the surface area of the root by over 1,000 times, allowing plants to access water and nutrients more easily and send carbon from one tree to another.”

Pouliot explained this underground fungal network can source water from a drain line or dam and feed it to plant roots at higher or dryer points in the landscape.

Fungi has implications “greater than we ever once imagined” Pouliot said. An old mother eucalyptus tree can connect to up to 37 younger trees through their roots and connected mycelium. “Potentially what you do to the mother tree will effect the health of these younger trees.”

Ray Walsh from Cowra Council’s NRM committee said that farmers attitudes have changed since the 1970s and 1980s. “They understand the importance of avoiding soil compaction and minimizing stubble burning which may help fungi in their soils. They are very interested to learn about the role fungi plays in improving carbon in our soil,” he told Pouliot.

For those interested in foraging for fungi, Pouliot explained picking mushrooms has been a toxic threat feared by all except the highly trained. “You use all your senses when selecting toxic from edible mushrooms.

When touching a stem you need to assess if it feels like velvet, suede, sandpaper, butter, wax or mucous. The smell of fungi can range from iodine, ammonia, chlorine, burnt rubber or burnt hair. It’s also important to observe their shape and where they grow,” said Pouliot.

Mid Lachlan Landcare officer, Tracee Burke said she was pleased with the capacity turnout. “It was incredible to hear Alison say that fungi does the same thing as irrigation and fertilizer with its ability to distribute moisture, nutrients and minerals in the soil.”

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