These forest fungi are a bounty for Arizona mushroom hunters

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mushroom hunters have fanned out across forest floors for hundreds of years searching for what can be lucrative and delicious finds. But is climate change affecting these fungi? From the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University, Melanie Porter found weather change, at least, isn’t all bad news for these foragers. WOMAN: It’s like I said. It looks like it’s a shallot. MELANIE PORTER: A delicacy found on the forest floor only a mushroom lover would treasure. WOMAN: These, usually, you need like a saw. MELANIE PORTER: The Arizona Mushroom Society has a mission to provide educational and scientific opportunities for members to learn about mushrooms in a hands-on environment. WOMAN: Just blow the spores. MELANIE PORTER: The Society hosts dozens of workshops throughout the year. MAN: Could turn out to be a four-hour, five-hour hike down the mountain. MELANIE PORTER: Members also have the opportunity to trek to areas across Arizona to look for precious fungi. FABIAN MONJE, Arizona Mushroom Society: It’s the adult idea of a Easter egg hunt. MELANIE PORTER: Mushrooms can be used in teas, broths and medicinal remedies. WOMAN: These are bioluminescent. MELANIE PORTER: But it takes a careful eye to determine which are poisonous and which are safe to eat. This group knows enough about mushroom species to understand not to eat them before they’re properly identified. WOMAN: This one, I believe we are calling (INAUDIBLE). MELANIE PORTER: And these mushrooms also bring balance to the forest. FABIAN MONJE: The ecosystem, we need the mushrooms just like the bees need the flowers. The mushrooms provide the mycelium, the mycelium on the mushrooms, for the trees. MELANIE PORTER: Fabian Monje is a foray leader for the Arizona Mushroom Society, and he’s seen firsthand how mushrooms reflect a changing climate. FABIAN MONJE: Mushrooms come and go with the season and how much rain we get. And we had a great winter. It could have had a very productive summer if it had continued. But, you know, you can’t have it both times. MELANIE PORTER: And while these mushroom hunters see climate change happening locally, research shows that, globally, fungi could adapt to the changing climate. WOMAN: Beautiful. MELANIE PORTER: One study from Spain found that wild mushrooms thrive when there are changes in temperatures and moisture across a growing season. In fact, they found climate change had no negative long-term effect on mushrooms. It actually helped produce more mushrooms by increasing their fruiting and growing season. WOMAN: Underside of the gills are even brighter purple. MELANIE PORTER: Based on the weather in this part of Arizona, foragers said this season was decent, but not the best. RAY YOUNGHANS, Arizona Mushroom Society: Some years are definitely spottier than others. It has not been the juiciest year. MELANIE PORTER: The study found that these forest gems do well in areas with more rain at the beginning of the season and warmer temperatures at the end, like some Arizona mountains. FABIAN MONJE: Every monsoon season is different in different areas. But that time is a very small frame and a very small window. MELANIE PORTER: Mushroom hunters are taking advantage of this window of opportunity by hitting the trails all around the state. WOMAN: Mmm, delicacy. MELANIE PORTER: They’re hopeful that the mushroom crop will continue to be fruitful. ELIZABETH BILODEAU, Arizona Mushroom Society: We are just hoping that our season still isn’t over yet. When the temperatures start to drop, the mushrooms hide. MELANIE PORTER: But they’re prepared to say goodbye to these delicacies until next season. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Melanie Porter with Cronkite News in Tucson, Arizona. JUDY WOODRUFF: Who knew? A benefit from climate change. There you have it.

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