By Tyler Wright
The ‘Mushrooms of the Dandenong Ranges’ Facebook group has one and a half thousand members.
You’ll find enthusiasts asking ‘can someone please id?’ alongside an image they have snapped of fungi in local greenery.
You’ll also find replies along the lines of ‘could be a native russula.’
“A possible horsehair fungus- Gymnopus androsaceus,’’ another replies.
There is a clear exchange of knowledge and learning within the group, some even call themselves ‘rookies’ in the social media comments, imparting and absorbing knowledge like a mushroom absorbs nutrients.
Sibel Canver hails from Germany, has recently established a mushroom farm in Emerald and is also a member of the community group.
“I would always go mushroom foraging in the European forest.. A lot of pine forests were there,” Sibel said.
“And then when the lockdown started, I remembered that there are actually a lot of pine forests here too.
“That really sparked my interest in mushrooms again.”
Mushroom foraging season lies between the first rains in Autumn to the really cold weather in August, stopping when frost puts an end to the season. But as the end of 2021’s summer has been particularly dry, mushroom farmers say foraging will not be in full swing unil this weekend.
“Hopefully we get more rain and cooler nights, and hopefully the mushies will be everywhere,” Sibel said.
The area’s interest in mushrooms has boomed since the beginning of Covid and demand has been strong for Sibel’s mushroom-based products she sells from her business ‘Mycelium Wisdom.’
Her social media posts have gained traction in the community because mushrooms are “very photogenic,” she said.
“When I do markets, I have a lot of people coming up wanting to know how to cultivate mushrooms themselves.
“With the way the world is going, it’s really important that people know how to be able to grow their own independent, organic, healthy food source to start with or know how to find it in the forest” she said.
Emerald Lake Park and Cockatoo’s Wright Forest are ample locations for locals to forage, she said, with multiple varieties of mushroom for locals to explore. But it is vital to know what you are picking, and choosing to eat after foraging.
“There’s certain Boletus – or the Saffron Milk Caps, they grow with pine trees, because they like the polysaccharides (like sugars) the trees can provide the mushrooms. And in return, the mushrooms will actually channel nutrients to the trees. So they help each other out”
Gourmet mushroom grower John Ford will be holds foraging courses to focus on just that – identifying certain mushroom’s “poisonous look alikes” to avoid serious illness.
“We make sure we have the [mushrooms] there and people can hold them in their hands so they can see the differences.
“I think that having an experienced guide is a really, really important thing,” John said.
“All across the region, people will be foraging and you’ll certainly see them out this weekend, on the side of the road, without a doubt.”