How you can help fill out a mushroom map of North America

·2 min read
Robert Courteau, who heads a non-profit organization dedicated to fungi research, education and conservation, took Ottawa Morning's Hallie Cotnam on a mushroom tour along the Crazy Horse Trail off March Road near Huntmar Drive on Wednesday, and found this king bolete. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC - image credit)
Robert Courteau, who heads a non-profit organization dedicated to fungi research, education and conservation, took Ottawa Morning's Hallie Cotnam on a mushroom tour along the Crazy Horse Trail off March Road near Huntmar Drive on Wednesday, and found this king bolete. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC - image credit)

It's fall tradition to look up into the trees to admire fiery shades of red, orange and gold, but for the next month, an Ottawa mushroom lover is inviting people to look down instead.

And not just in the National Capital Region, but across North America.

From Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, Robert Courteau hopes people will upload at least 50,000 observations of mushrooms, lichens and slime moulds in what he's calling the Great North American FungiQuest.

Hallie Cotnam/CBC
Hallie Cotnam/CBC

Courteau is a former chef, president of the Ottawa Mycological Society and founder of Think Fungi, a non-profit organization dedicated to fungi research, education and conservation.

People can upload their mushroom sightings via several applications, including iNaturalist and Mushroom Observer, Courteau told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on a mushroom hunt off March Road near Huntmar Drive on Wednesday.

As long as locations are included, the observations will help fill out a map of North America showing which mushrooms are growing where at any point in the month.

"The world of fungi is still quite unknown and understudied. Observations captured help us understand which fungi are found where across our continent, which is the first step in understanding our fungal landscape," the event listing on Think Fungi's website states.

Hallie Cotnam/CBC
Hallie Cotnam/CBC

Planning to contribute? In addition to a field guide or two, Courteau suggests bringing a little mirror.

"I always carry with me this little pocket mirror, and it allows me to see the underside of the mushroom, which is probably one of the main distinguishing features of a mushroom," Courteau said.

He only picks a mushroom if he plans on eating it that night.

During the walk with Ottawa Morning, he found three king boletes — one of which had the "most pristine stem" he'd ever seen — as well as something that looked like a delicious hedgehog mushroom.

But after inspecting the underside with his pocket mirror, he found it didn't have the telltale "teeth" on its underside.

Hallie Cotnam/CBC
Hallie Cotnam/CBC

Courteau adopted the mushroom-hunting pastime when he moved to eastern Europe, and highly recommends it.

Step into a patch of forest, and you just might see a chicken of the woods, or a smattering of apricot jelly.