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A festivalof fungus.

Byline: Dash Paulson The Register-Guard

On Sunday, the White Pavilion at Mount Pisgah was crammed with a buffet of fungus with more than 300 species of mushrooms laid out and identified by yellow cards.

Hundreds of visitors streamed between tables, with as much interest and jostling of elbows as if it were King Tutankhamun and his treasures on display. But, instead, they were marvelling at Oregon's immense fungal diversity.

Although Sunday's constant rain and elusive sunlight were more suited to mushrooms than people, attendance was strong at Mount Pisgah Arboretum's 33rd annual Mushroom Festival, which resembled a mushroom-themed Sunday market.

Visitors could browse through baskets of edible mushrooms, organic produce, potted plants, mushroom hats, mushroom dyed scarves, bat houses, mycology charts, jewelry and framed art.

If anyone got hungry there were booths and food carts planted everywhere, including Rita's Burritos and Holy Cow. Non-stop live music sounded throughout the festival and some festival-goers sat on haybales to watch the musicians or danced wildly in their ponchos and rain gear. Many children came decked out in elaborate Halloween costumes.

Back in a corner of the pavilion sat one of the most popular attractions, the mycologists, who study fungus. They were beset by visitors bringing in strange mushrooms, pictures of mushrooms, or just memories of mushrooms they had seen pop up their yards.

"I haven't seen many mushrooms in the forest this year, probably because it's been so warm," said Freeman Rowe, retired instructor of Biology at Lane Community College. "But coming here today I see so many! That means of course a lot of people spent a lot of time in the woods looking for them."

Rowe estimated this year there were more than 350 mushrooms on display, including beet red "Purple Corts" and lethal death caps, poisonous pink Mycena and whimsical Fly Amanitas. The festival's "best in show" was a Varnished Conk the size of a hubcap.

A large part of the specimens on display were collected by teams sent out by the Univerisity of Oregon, LCC, and The Mycological Society.

However many specimens were brought in by ordinary mushroom enthusiasts and were being continually added on to the exhibit as the day progressed.

Ron Hamill, 56, is a professional mycologist with Stone Ecosurveys of Eugene. He's been volunteering for many years at the festival and now does a lot of the principal identification for specimens brought to the event.

Although most identifications are simple, Hamill said, mushroom species and variants are so multitudinous that the mycologists on hand at the festival can never identify every specimen brought in.

"I'd say at least half of the crowd are regulars," he said, gesturing to the packed pavilion. "They come every year to see what we found or bring their own specimens so we can tell them more about what they've found."

Hamill kept a compact magnifying glass hanging around his neck, under his shirt, which he pulled out to examine samples. A young couple, clearly excited, brought him some specimens packed in plastic containers. Hamill identified their samples immediately, describing their environmental range, common characteristics, and how one type they brought tastes when coarsely chopped and sauted in an omelet.

Follow Dash on Twitter @DashPaulson. Email dash.paulson@registerguard.com.
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Title Annotation:Local News
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 27, 2014
Words:539
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