B.C. scientists have discovered that death cap mushrooms have learned to live off the roots of Garry oak trees. This means the mushroom has adapted, spread itself farther, and can now also be found anywhere Garry oaks grow. (Adolf and Oluna Ceska photo)

B.C. scientists have discovered that death cap mushrooms have learned to live off the roots of Garry oak trees. This means the mushroom has adapted, spread itself farther, and can now also be found anywhere Garry oaks grow. (Adolf and Oluna Ceska photo)

Death cap mushroom evolves to survive off native tree species

Notoriously poisonous mushroom can now be found near the base of Garry oak trees

Beings of nature have a fascinating way of adapting to their environment.

Amanita phalloides, or death cap mushrooms, originated in Europe but were accidentally introduced in B.C. through hitching rides on the roots of trees, such as the sweet chestnut. Once planted in the yards of urban neighbourhoods here, the fruiting bodies began to make their presence known.

Initially, the notoriously poisonous mushroom would only show up near the base of transplanted European trees. And for a while, the only place they could be found was in Vancouver or the Greater Victoria region.

However, in the last few years B.C. scientists discovered that death caps have learned to live off the roots of Garry oak trees, shared Metchosin biologist Andy MacKinnon. This means that the mushroom species has adapted, spread itself farther, and can now also be found anywhere Garry oaks grow.

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MacKinnon grew up in Vancouver, graduating with a master’s degree in mycology from the University of British Columbia. He noted that although death cap mushrooms have evolved to survive on the native oak trees, he is unsure of how this will affect the ecosystem.

“We really have no idea what the affect on the tree is,” said MacKinnon, who is currently helping with a study that investigates what fungi species grow on Garry oak roots. “It is difficult to tell whether the death cap would displace other fungi that grow on the roots, or just grow in addition to what is there already.”

There is a scarcity of research done on the relationship between Garry oaks and fungi, MacKinnon added, so before they could predict how the trees are affected, more information is needed on what other species grow on the roots.

MacKinnon, who is also a Metchosin councillor, continues to research the curious lives of mushrooms through various projects.

One of his learning lenses is focused with the Metchosin Biodiversity Project, a group that aims to increase understanding of Metchosin’s species and ecosystems. The organization holds annual “mycoblitz” events, which include the community in collecting and identifying mushrooms in Metchosin.

For more information, or to learn about species that have been identified in the region, please visit www.metchosindiversity.com.

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