Another Successful BioBlitz!

May 27th, 2016 by Sasha McGuire, Education Program Assistant

By Alicia Blood, Youth and Family Programs Supervisor

It’s hard to believe it has been 3 weeks since UW Botanic Gardens staff, taxa experts and community volunteers joined forces in our 2016 BioBlitz.  It was an amazing weekend full of sunshine, teamwork, and exploration. The Washington Park Arboretum, and Foster Island in particular, was abuzz with the opening day of boating season festivities, but that didn’t stop our dedicated crew! In all, we had over 86 people take part in our weekend BioBlitz events, including an entire University of Washington Entomology class.  Here are some of the highlights from the weekend:

DSC_0346smallWe started our weekend with an introduction to a BioBlitz for families on Friday evening. Participating families explored what a scientist does during a BioBlitz through a variety of hands-on stations. Children participated in a variety of activities which showed them how to think and act like a scientist, including creating a plant field guide and observing aquatic macroinvertebrates. In addition, families had the opportunity to join in on a few guided group hikes to find birds and pond life. We had a great time practicing our skills and learning about what a BioBlitz is. In fact, a few families returned the following day to put their new skills into action in one of our taxa groups!

BatsFriday evening kicked off our first official taxa group – bats! Michelle Noe from Bats Northwest brought a crew out to collect acoustic data, allowing us to listen to bat calls. Our experts then used the data collected to reveal that there were 5 different species of bats on Foster Island that night!   We also led a group of families on a bat focused night hike where they learned about bats, played a few bat games and had the opportunity to see bats flying overhead.

DSC_0426After a quick night’s sleep, we returned early Saturday morning to start off our day with our birds taxa group at dawn. This group of dedicated volunteers arrived bright and early (with children in tow) to beat the Boating Day foot traffic on Foster Island. With the sun recently risen, they headed out to the northern-most point of the island to begin their observations. Surrounded by springtime bird behaviors, this group had the opportunity to clearly view the Bald Eagle’s nest, stand by while a marsh wren went about its job protecting its nest, observe a Virginia Rail, and see many baby birds and ducklings.

While our birds group was out exploring Foster Island, volunteers were arriving at the Graham Visitors Center and gearing up to head out in our morning taxa groups. Teams assembled to collect data on lichens, bryophytes, noxious weeds and insects. Included in this group were college students enrolled in an entomology course at the University of Washington taught by Dr. Patrick Tobin, who added great energy to the morning. Teams spread out across Foster Island and went to work finding 16 species of bryophytes, 21 lichens, 25 noxious weeds, and a lot of insects! The noxious weed group found an interesting specimen. While the ID has yet to be verified, we think it might be Lonicera maackii or Amur honeysuckle, an invasive plant native to the NE United States.

DSC_0495smallOur final groups, arrived in the afternoon, eager to take a look at our plant collections as well as explore the waters of Foster Island in search of aquatic macroinvertebrates and mussels. Team Water headed all the way out to the furthest point on Foster Island and got right in the water to examine who was enjoying life in Lake Washington. Their investigation was highlighted by an abundance of sunshine and the festive Opening Day of Boating Season Boat Parade (I heard they got to sing along to the Love Boat song 6 times)!  Meanwhile, Team Plant was out checking plant collections on Foster Island, noting tree sizes, condition and tracking any trees that were not recorded on our 20 year old maps. Through these observations they noted an extreme increase of native species along the edges of Lake Washington.

DSC_0461 (2)When the day was over, our basecamp was packed up and our volunteers and taxa experts had departed, we had a moment to reflect on our accomplishments. With a wild Boating Day weekend on Foster Island, we were sure we would run into some challenges, but in the end everything seemed to run along as smooth as can be. We had 86 people participate in our weekend BioBlitz including many young and eager future scientists! Staff had a blast working alongside experts and volunteers and especially enjoyed sharing the wonders of nature at the Arboretum. With BioBlitz 2016 barely in the past we are now looking forward to our next event – stay tuned for fall 2017.  In the meantime, make sure to check out our data here, and don’t forget to make time to come out and explore the UW Botanic Gardens!

DSCN0663A BioBlitz is an intense period of biological surveying in an attempt to record all the living species within a designated area. Groups of scientists, naturalists and community volunteers conduct an intensive field study over a continuous time period. The University of Washington Botanic Gardens has completed four BioBlitzes at the Washington Park Arboretum over the last six years.

 

 

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2016 Bioblitz

April 15th, 2016 by Sasha McGuire, Education Program Assistant
Jenni Cena and Liam Stacey, guest entomologists, examine a catch at our 2013 Bioblitz

Jenni Cena and Liam Stacey, guest entomologists, examine a catch at our 2013 Bioblitz

Coming up on May 6 and 7, the UW Botanic Gardens invites you to join our 2016 BioBlitz at the Washington Park Arboretum! A BioBlitz is an intense period of biological surveying in an attempt to record all the living species within a designated area. Groups of scientists, naturalists and community volunteers conduct an intensive field study over a continuous time period. Sign up this year and help us look for bats, birds, insects, lichens, weeds, and mussels at the Arboretum’s Foster Island!

On Friday night, you can partake in “Introduction to BioBlitz” activities, as well as walks with our naturalists for families with kids ages 4 to 11. Stop in any time between 4 and 7 p.m., and we will also stay out late to look for bats from 8 to 10 p.m.

On Saturday, we’ll be searching for birds at daybreak, insects, lichens and noxious weeds in the morning, then plants and freshwater mussels/macroinvertebrates in the afternoon. The BioBlitz is open to everyone, whether you are a newbie or a seasoned naturalist, and children are welcome in all groups.

So if you’d like to join other students, citizen scientists and families for a rewarding, hands-on weekend of discovery, you can RSVP online for an organism group (or taxa), by phone (206.685.8033), or by email (uwbgeduc@uw.edu).

Hope you can make it!Andrew_Westphal_by_Christina_Doherty

Bioblitz 2013 – What’s hatching in the Arboretum?

May 15th, 2013 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan
Northwestern Salamander eggs discovered by our guest herpetologists from the PNW Herpetological Society.

Northwestern Salamander eggs discovered by our guest herpetologists from the PNW Herpetological Society.

May is a vibrant month at the UWBG’s Washington Park Arboretum.  The show that the Olmstead Bros. firm had in mind when they designed Azalea Way back in the 1920’s reaches maximum glory as fading cherry blossoms hand over the reins to innumerable phonograph-shaped blooms that wall the 1/2 mile promenade.  It’s easy to be swept up in the colors and scents of spring, so gaudy and distracting, but there is vibrancy beyond the blooms as well.  The soil has reached a consistent warmth, the night time air has lost its bite and everywhere is teaming with insects.  They’ve timed their reappearance perfectly with the lime-green growth in the park, as have the bats, birds and frogs to eat them.  What better time to hold a bioblitz.

 May 10th/11th marked our third full-on blitz, and our second spring-time one.  (We’re on an 18-month spring/fall cycle).  The inaugural UWBG Bioblitz took place around this same time of year in 2010 and focused on the north end, Foster Island.  Our focus this time was on the middle third of our 230 acres – the heart of our “native matrix”.

The "green zone".

The “green zone”.

Jenni Cena & Liam Stacey, guest entomologists, examine a catch

Jenni Cena & Liam Stacey, guest entomologists, examine a catch

Declaring a focal area is pretty arbitrary speaking to birders and mammal trackers – they cover as much territory as their quarry.  For the entomologists I tagged along with during the first taxa team shift on Friday afternoon, however, we’d hardly left the greenhouse before the Siren’s song crashed us on a grove of cedars to pick and dig and shake and catch.  They indulged and in the process trained their few citizen-scientist tagalongs, and then I pried them away to plunk them in the “green zone”, a 200,000 sq. ft. square in the middle third.  We made it through about 1.5 of the 100′ x 100′ grid squares on our map.

 

Greg Vargas and other UW students use clinometers to approximate the height of a large redcedar in our "Native Matrix"

Greg Vargas and other UW students use clinometers to approximate the height of a large redcedar in our “Native Matrix”

The plant team was moving at a similar pace because this year we decided to do something a little different.  The WPA has within it’s collection around 10,400 specimens.  We have information on all of them, information like where they came from, when they were planted, by whom, etc.  Also within the WPA, however, are acres of more or less natural areas, our “native matrix” comprised of big old native trees that regrew from seed after the site was last harvested in 1896.  About these trees, we have very little information.

So for bioblitz, we teamed up with Lisa Ceicko from Forterra to begin an inventory of our native trees using i-Tree protocols.  I-Tree is a program that when you enter in some basic data like tree type, diameter, height, etc., it spits out numbers representing various ecosystem services that a given tree is providing.  King County (also with Lisa’s help) is in the midst of completing their Integrated Urban Forest Assessment aimed to determine how much carbon is being sequestered, air/water  being purified, habitat provided, etc. by Seattle’s trees using the same program.  We aim to do the same with our big old natives.  During Bioblitz, we made it through almost three grid squares…only 592 more to go.

After that first shift it was time for dinner and a lecture with this year’s guest speaker, Paul Bannick.  If you haven’t seen Paul speak, you should, but regardless, you’ve ever opened up a bird book, you’ve probably seen his photographs as his work is featured in all the good ones.  His book, The Owl & the Woodpecker, inspired a traveling exhibit created by the Burke Museum and he’s won a couple really big awards over the past few years, one from Audubon Magazine the other from Canon.  His talk and slideshow focused on owls, and gave those in attendance a glimpse into his next book.  It was both fascinating and beautiful.

Paul Bannick's talk was filled with extraordinary shots like this one.

Michelle Noe of Bats Northwest, shares her passion for these misunderstood creatures of the night

Michelle Noe of Bats Northwest, shares her passion for these misunderstood creatures of the night

After the talk, half of the next taxa team shift focused on owls as well, the other half, bats.  There lives within the WPA a pair of resident Barred Owls.  They’ve been seen here consistently for the past several years and they’ve reared several successful broods.  It’s nesting season right now, and we know where they’re nesting.  Despite all this, however, the owl team got skunked.  Not even a “who cooks for you”.  The bat team, on the other hand, led by members from Bats Northwest, fared much better.  With their sonar equipment, they recorded hundreds if not thousands of these misunderstood echo-locators, mostly Silver-haired Bats.  I learned that there are 15 bat species in Washington State, 13 of whom live west of the Cascades.  We fear bats for their blood-sucking reputation, yet only 3 species worldwide actually suck blood, and two of those target birds.  Ironically, without bats, we’d lose countless more blood to mosquitoes.  Bats eat 40% of their body weight in insects per night, and as an added bonus they help pollinate night blooming flowers (such as agave for making tequila).

Saturday started with some early morning bird teams (one by land and one by kayaks provided by Agua Verde Paddle Club), a plant team and a mammal tracking team.  The kayakers were happy to see a Spotted Sandpiper as well as a Pied Billed Grebe nest floating on some lily pads.  The land-lubbers were happy to see the owls.  The tracker, Linda Bittle from the Wilderness Awareness School, was just happy to be out of the office.  The day continued with more of the same plus a couple spider team outings with Rod Crawford and one lonely mushroom team.  Sunny springs can be tough on mushrooms and there were several great events competing for mushroom folk attention – a lecture from local legend Paul Stamets Friday night, and Mushroom Mania at the Burke.  We look forward to another fungus-blitz this fall to give this taxa its deserved attention.  And we look forward to continuing our bioblitz tradition for many years to come.  We hope to see you at the next one, and in the meantime, we’ll be doing what we can from a management perspective to sustain and increase the biodiversity in this gem of the Emerald City.

A stinkhorn fungus discovered by our mushroom taxa team Saturday afternoon.

A stinkhorn fungus discovered by our mushroom taxa team Saturday afternoon.

Jonathan Goff and Mallory Clarke from the Cascade Mammal Trackers examine tracks in a tunnel under the Broadmore fence.

Jonathan Goff and Mallory Clarke from the Cascade Mammal Trackers examine tracks in a tunnel under the Broadmore fence.

UWBG Bioblitz 2013 at the Washington Park Arboretum

April 9th, 2013 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan

long_toed_salamanders_Christina_D

A bioblitz is a biological inventory that takes place over a short period of time (usually 24hrs) in a specified area (in this case the Washington Park Arboretum). The purpose of a bioblitz is to take a snap shot of biodiversity, which is a way to measure the health of an ecosystem. The more organisms found, the healthier the ecosystem. We value bioblitzes at the UWBG for a number of reasons: they’re a tool to help us manage our site as sustainably as possible; they’re a great way to engage with our community and raise awareness of the importance of biodiversity (even in urban environments); and since they are hands-on and fast-paced, they are also a lot of fun.

The way it works is there will be 2.5 hour shifts during which small groups of citizen scientists & UW students will go out with one of our field scientists in search of various taxa (birds, bats, bugs, fungi, plants, mammals, etc.). As a team, they try to ID and count what they find and record the location where they found it. In some cases (e.g. fungi, insects) specimens can be collected and identified later.

Space is limited, so click here to sign up for a shift today!

Don’t want to volunteer, but want to attend Paul Bannick’s presentation, The Life of Owls, on Friday evening? Non-volunteers can pay $8 to attend: click here to register

When: Friday, May 10th & Saturday May 11th

Friday:
4pm-6:30pm
6:30-8pm (dinner for volunteers & lecture from 7-8pm with wildlife photographer, Paul Bannick. Please register to attend the talk.)
8pm-10:30pm

Saturday:
7am-9:30am (early birders)
10am-12:30am
1pm-3:30pm
3:30-4pm (show & tell)

Where: Graham Visitors Center (2300 Arboretum Dr E Seattle WA)

mushroom sample

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bioblitz flyer

Bioblitz 2011 (debrief)

November 3rd, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan

Bioblitz 2011 has come and gone, and like last year I find myself still thinking about how awesome it was a week.5 after the fact.  It’s a lot to pull together and 10 days seems about right as far as decompression goes.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but bioblitzes tap into so many different fibers of my genetic memory.  One of the things that has stuck with me since grad school is Howard Gardener’s multiple intelligence theory.  Gardener considered the standard IQ test limited and proposed 8 different kinds of intelligences to describe the ways people can be smart.  Originally, he only identified 7, but he went back several years later to add “naturalist intelligence” to the mix.  Self-diagnoses suggests I show strong tendencies toward this type, and I dare say many of those who attended UWBG Bioblitz 2011 last weekend express these character traits as well: “would rather be outdoors than in”, check; “can pick objects out of patterns”, check; “knows the names of plants & animals”, check; “observant of surroundings”, check.  All of us can find a little naturalist intelligence in ourselves, evolution wouldn’t have it any other way, but we seldom have golden opportunities to exercise such muscles as a bioblitz presents.

But aside from the obvious appeal to my nature-nerd side, this bioblitz hit me on a human level as well (Gardener’s “interpersonal intelligence”).  At one point on Saturday, I found myself on a mushroom team with a pair of traveling mycologist/photographers from Massachusetts, an energetic immigrant from the former Czechoslovakia, a Serbian visiting from Portland, a UW student from the French Alps, a family of four that included two inquisitive young boys, and the daughter of Fujitaro Kubota, of Kubota Gardens.  What brought this group together on this predictably soggy but clear fall afternoon?  I can’t be sure, but my hunch is that when these people heard about the opportunity to participate in biological inventory of the WPA, it triggered a response from their “naturalist intelligence” and like a moth to a flame could not help but be there.  Either that, or they were bored and in the neighborhood.

The highlight during that particular field session was the discovery of a stinkhorn fungus just off of Azalea Way.  The stinkhorns are a group of fungi that produce a smelly, slimy substance designed to attract flies.  The fly visits the source of the smell (a combination of gym socks and rotting fish), is covered in the spore-laden slime which later dries while the fly is in flight and in this way is dispersed far and wide.  Seed dispersal is a key concept discussed in our Plants 101 & 201 fieldtrips, but when we talk about spore producers like ferns and mosses, we typically teach that surface moisture is the only method of dispersal.  Stinkhorns obviously evolved a different approach every bit as advanced as the seed producers who rely on animals to get around.  I will never again sell these fascinating forest dwellers short, they are anything but primitive.

Noah showing Nikko the stinkhorn he found

Other highlights of the event included an illuminating dinner-time presentation from doctoral student, Rachel Mitchell, who spoke of the importance of and threats to biodiversity.  One thing that resonated from Rachel’s talk was the concept of redundancy – a characteristic of healthy ecosystems.  Rachel’s research focuses on meadow habitats where very similar but different grasses fill similar niches and serve similar functions.  Redundancy is an insurance policy that makes an ecosystem more resilient to environmental changes.  A slight change in temperature, for example, may be enough to affect one species of grass but not another, so while one species may crash, the ecosystem as a while continues to function properly.  This concept alone is enough to warrant our efforts to preserve biodiversity in the world.  To paraphrase E.O. Wilson, biodiversity is the fabric that holds the web of life together and when we tear at this fabric we risk having the whole web fall apart.

After the talk, we took to the water in search of the Arboretum’s nocturnal residents.  With help from our fearless leaders from Agua Verde Paddle Club, we paddled around Foster & Marsh Islands in small flotillas.  It didn’t take long to find what we were looking for as the first of many loud smacks echoed across the water.  All told, we accounted for 13 beavers, the bulk of which were hanging out by that funky metallic sculpture on the north side of 520.  The beavers’ tail slappings were punctuated by the occasional pterodactyl-like squawk of Great Blue Herons sent awkwardly skyward by our presence.  I felt a little bad about causing such a raucous and disturbing these and the other shadowy creatures of the marsh with our poking, but then again it’s only once a year.  The “owl-prowl” that followed our aquatic excursion was less eventful – only managing to scare up one brief conversation with a Barred Owl, but it was a lot of fun none the less.  On our way back to the greenhouse, we happened upon 3 of the chubbiest raccoons I’ve ever seen climbing straight up a Douglas Fir near the Visitor’s Center.  These ring-tailed residents have obviously figured out how to take advantage of our numerous trashcans.

raccoon signs: a dug-up hornets nest

The following morning, despite sideways rain at dawn, I was astonished to find a dozen eager birders ready to take the kayaks back out to observe the wetlands in the “daylight”.  They were rewarded for their tenacity with freshly made bagels from Bagel Oasis, and a nice list of birds that you can check out here on ebird.  The remainder of the day was devoted to mushrooms, insects and plants (those lists are still being compiled).  I would be remiss without sending out a big thank you to the Puget Sound Mycological Society for their participation, as well as to all the UWBG staff members who came out to help.  While there weren’t any earth shattering discoveries from the plant teams, it was a great opportunity to a) have a chance to engage with the public, and b) take a close look at our grounds in a non-work capacity.  After all, the mission of the UW Botanic Gardens is Sustaining managed to natural ecosystems and the human spirit through plant research, display, and education.  So not only does Bioblitz strike multiple chords with me personally, but it beautifully supports our reason for being.  We’ve decided to alternate yearly between spring and fall events to capture a more complete picture our biodiversity and avoid over-taxing our pool of specialists, meaning the next UWBG Bioblitz will be held in spring of 2013.  Stay tuned and I hope to see you there.

Bioblitz 2011: update

October 11th, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan

With a little over a week away from Bioblitz 2011, the various taxa teams are starting to form, but we still need eyes, ears and hands in the field!  Below please find a new schedule of when we’ll be looking for what. To sign up and join in the fun, contact Patrick Mulligan at simsigan@uw.edu or call 206-543-8801 and talk to Lisa Sanphillipo.

Space is limited; first come, first serve!

All teams will depart from the greenhouse (a.k.a. “Science Central”) near the Graham Visitors Center.  Participants must sign a waiver, so please come a little early and dress appropriately!

Friday, October 21

3:00 – 5:30 PM Birds Plants Mammals

5:30 – 7:00 PM

dinner; ecology presentation by UW Ph.D. student Rachel Mitchell

7:00 – 9:00 PM

Mammals (by kayak)

Night-time Insects

9:00 – 11:00 PM “Owl Prowl”

 

Saturday, October 22

7:00 – 9:00 AM Birds (by land)

Birds (by kayak)

Fungi

9:00 – 11:30 AM

Plants

Insects

Fungi

12:00 – 2:30 PM Plants Fungi Mammals
2:30 – 3:00 PM

Show & Tell

 

 

Bioblitz 2011

September 9th, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan

 

The UW Botanic Gardens is pleased to announce BIOBLITZ 2011, the 3rd installation of a long-term citizen science experiment aimed at measuring and tracking biodiversity within the Washington Park Arboretum – a 230 acre collection of trees founded in 1934 making it Seattle’s 4th oldest public park.

Bioblitz 2010 was held last May and attended by over 100 volunteers comprised of scientists, both professional and aspiring, of all ages and interests. Approximately 400 species from a variety of taxa groups, including a potentially new species of Philodromus crab spider.

foster island phil1The Fungus Among Us”, a special edition held in partnership with the Puget Sound Mycological Society and focused entirely on mushrooms was held in October, 2010. Close to 80 volunteers collected approximately 500 specimens during four 3-hour shifts.

With these base line numbers, we now have some idea of who is calling the WPA “home”, but these two surveys provide only snapshots of the ever changing story being played out upon this piece of urban green space. In order to gain a deeper understanding of this special place, we strive to duplicate our experiment and turn these snapshots into a movie. Our mission at the UWBG is to “sustain managed to natural ecosystems and the human spirit through plant research, display, and education.” You are invited to help us fulfill that mission by taking part in this unique event.

What: Small field groups surveying various habitats for different taxa groups during six 2.5 hour shifts over a 24 hour period.

When:  October 21 – 22

What time:

Friday, Oct. 21st                                                            Saturday, Oct. 22nd

  • 3pm-5:30                                                                     7am – 9am
  • 5:30 – 7pm (cookout dinner/lecture)              9am – 11:30
  • 7pm – 9pm                                                                   12pm – 2:30
  • 9pm – 11:30                                                                  2:30 – 3pm (show & tell)

Who:  Anyone and everyone, no experience necessary, just a healthy curiosity.

Cost:  FREE

How:  RSVP for specific shifts to simsigan@uw.edu or call 206-616-3381

 

Foster Island spider appears to be new species

February 16th, 2011 by Jennifer Youngman, Program Coordinator

You may recall that last spring’s BioBlitz in the Washington Park Arboretum resulted in some interesting finds, thanks to the efforts of more than 100 citizen scientists, university students and professionals. Here’s an update on one of those discoveries.

Foster Island Philodromus spiderRod Crawford, Curator of Arachnids at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, reports, “I just finished fully curating the spiders from last May’s Foster Island bioblitz. The unusual Philodromus crab spider from the Waterside Trail, is not P. imbecillus nor is it P. insperatus (only member of the imbecillus group known from Washington). It is very similar to an Atlantic-states species Philodromus marxi, but is more likely to be an altogether new species. Full confirmation will have to await more specimens including males, but we can tentatively consider it new.”

The Foster Island female spider’s reproductive organs don’t match those of Philodromus insperatus, a spider found in this state but mainly in sagebrush country. And the Atlantic states’ P. marxi’s body coloration is metallic, very different from that of the spider found on Foster Island. And so the research continues.

Rod Crawford maintains a website called The Spider Myths Site. Interestingly, two of the myths are “Spiders are easy to identify” and “The spider you found has to be a species you’ve already heard of.”

Photograph by Rod Crawford

Bioblitz: Mushroom Edition re-cap

November 5th, 2010 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan

Last spring, the University of Washington Botanic Gardens hosted a bioblitz to take a stab at identifying the myriad organisms for which Washington Park Arboretum is home.  Last week, we continued this effort but with a focus on fungus.  During Bioblitz: Mushroom Edition, Puget Sound Mycological Society members teamed up with over 60 citizen scientists for a full day of mushroom hunting that by sundown netted approximately 500 specimens.

The folks from PSMS had been with us in the spring for the all-taxa bioblitz, and had expressed a desire to come back in the fall during prime mushroom season.  The mushroom people I’ve met in Seattle are like that – deeply passionate, and genuinely enamored with their quarry.  As for the 60 more or less random people that showed up on this predictably drizzle October day, they were almost as diverse as the mushrooms that were collected.  (I say almost because everyone smelled pretty good; the same cannot be said for the mushrooms.)  But what is it about mushrooms that so captures our collective curiosity?  It’s a difficult question to answer because the answer differs depending on who you ask.

I participated in all three of the 2-hour hunts, and attended Marian Maxwell’s presentation on “The Role of Mushrooms in the Ecosystem”, and so I had the chance to mingle with a good number of attendees.  I hunted briefly in the afternoon with Alex, a recent transplant from California where he worked as an environmental educator – a man after my own heart.  Alex likes the way mushrooms force one to slow down and really look at one’s surroundings, even under one’s surroundings.  He used to do this on hikes with kids in California.  I’ve done this with fieldtrip groups at the arboretum, and I can verify the mesmerizing power of fungi.  Alex and I agreed that anything with the power to keep a group of 4th graders captivated for any real span of time borders on miraculous.

That being said, often times kids make the best mushroom hunters.  The Allgood family, with their two young daughters, joined us for much of the day (including the lecture), and contributed dozens of carefully collected specimens to our total.  The Allgoods are avid P-patchers who believe that the healthiest food is the food you grow yourself.   The desire to learn more about a potentially free, natural and local food source is what brought them out.

With the “eat local” movement gaining momentum and food security conversations becoming household, being able to forage for ones food is in vogue and mushrooms are poster children, and why not.  They’re abundant, extremely varied, the right ones are delicious, and you’re simply harvesting a fruit much like any other (but without the maintenance), so there’s no harm done. The trick of course is finding the right ones.

The edibility and lure of foraging for ones food was a common tie among many who came out.  Colin, a UW freshman only months into his college experience, is already tiring of “dorm food”.  While the Arboretum cannot be considered a place to go harvesting ‘shaggy parasols’ (it’s illegal to take anything out of this Seattle treasure), Colin was very pleased to rescue the handful we collected from their immanent fate in the compost pile and eager to get out into the mountains to find his own secret spot.

That’s what my wife likes about mushroom hunting – the hunting part.  The idea of going home with something tasty to eat is secondary to the thrill of the hunt.  Having a mission to focus on helps to quiet her ADD brain and allows for a much more enjoyable hike with a husband who is perfectly happy wandering aimlessly through the woods.  This example speaks to an indirect medicinal property that mushrooms hold, but there are some mushrooms such as the Agarikon (Fomitopsis officinalis), which only grows on old growth, that are being researched by pharmaceutical companies for their anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and possibly anti-cancer properties.

Of course there are others who are less interested in the potential for mushrooms to heal the body and more interested in the potential for mushrooms to heal the mind.  David, who I met during the morning hunt, though “out there” by conventional standards, is a deeply spiritual man who loves everything about mushrooms, including the ability of some to alter reality.  The hallucinogenic properties of mushrooms are well known and well documented in cultures around the world.  In many of these cultures, only the most revered members of the society – the shamans, medicine men and mystics are allowed to meddle with these powerful substances.  After all, these seemingly innocuous forest dwellers can kill you and every year even experienced mycologists die from eating mushrooms they believed to be safe.

Marian touched on the toxicology of some mushrooms during her talk, describing it as a self-defense mechanism and a way for one mushroom species to stake out turf over another.  Often times, but not always, these mushrooms with toxic properties are categorized as parasites – the potentially harmful group that steals nutrients from host plants weakening and eventually killing them.  Unfortunately, an example of this group, the Honey Mushroom (Armillaria mellea), was found living on some of our trees.  But that’s part of why we do these bioblitzes, to better know our 230 acres and how to manage them.

Marian also talked about a group of mushrooms called symbionts.  These are mutualists that actually benefit their associated host.  Examples include some of the more highly sought after mushrooms such as chanterelles and truffles.  This group is extremely difficult to cultivate because the symbiotic relationship between tree and mushroom takes several decades to form.  Once formed, however, the mushroom benefits by obtaining some of the sugars produced by the tree, and the tree benefits because the intricate mycelial network inhabiting the root zone greatly expands the trees ability to take in water and nutrients (as well as fight off potentially harmful diseases).

I envision roots wrapped in wooly sweaters wicking in the good stuff and keeping out the bad.  The really cool part is that specific mushrooms are associated with specific trees, and so once the relationship is established you can go back to the same tree year after year and expect to find the same type of mushroom.  This is dependent of course on time of year, weather conditions, and assuming you’ve gotten there first!  I think this is what I really like about mushrooms – they so beautifully illustrate the interconnected nature of nature.  If you know the tree you’re looking at, you’ll know what mushroom to look for, and maybe even what kind of bird or other critter to expect nearby.  A balanced forest ecosystem is like a well choreographed dance, each dance playing an indispensible role and strengthening the overall composition.

The third group of mushrooms that Marian talked about was the saprophytes.  These are the forest recyclers that obtain their nutrients by breaking down decaying matter.  By doing so, these nutrients are made available to be taken up and used again.  This group was by far the best represented of what we found owing to the time of year and abundance of decaying matter (fallen leaves and mulch).  Because of this, there are already murmurs among our PSMS partners to come again next year, but a little earlier in the season in hopes of finding different species.  So stay tuned, and regardless of what it is about mushrooms that tickles your fancy, come join us next time and take part in this ongoing citizen science experiment to see what we can find living in this wonderland of urban nature that is the Washington Park Arboretum.

The Fungus Among US

October 1st, 2010 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan

mushroom graphicThis past spring, the UWBG hosted the first ever bioblitz in Seattle.  A “bioblitz” is a biological scavenger hunt that aims to inventory all the various organisms living in a given area – the “blitz” part signifies that this inventory is taken within a short period of time.

There are several reasons why the UWBG aims to make bioblitzes a regularly occurring tradition:

  1. to better fulfill our mission of sustaining managed to natural ecosystems
  2. to raise awareness of the importance of biodiversity in an urban environment
  3. to bridge the gap between the academic world and the every-day world by harnessing the power of citizen scientists.

During our first attempt, close to 400 different species of plants, birds, insects, spiders, lichens, mammals, reptiles and fungi were accounted for in the Washington Park Arboretum, a major branch of the UWBG.  Several groups predicted that that number would have been higher had the bioblitz taken place during a different time of year.  The fungi group, comprised primarily of Puget Sound Mycological Society members, was among the groups itching to come back during more suitable conditions (i.e. fall).

And so, the UWBG, in partnership with PSMS, and with support from the Arboretum Foundation gives you, Bioblitz:  Mushroom Edition, “The Fungus Among Us”.

  • When: Thursday, October, 28th
  • What time: 10am – 10pm; with 3 scheduled hunts & a public presentation from PSMS President, Marian Maxwell.
    • 10:15am – 12:30pm
    • 1:15pm – 3:00pm
    • 3:15pm – 5:30pm
    • Public Lecture: 6:30 – 7:30pm: “Mushroom Ecology” by Mariam Maxwell, PSMS President
  • Where: The Washington Park Arboretum, Graham Visitors Center
  • Who: Anyone & everyone, no experience necessary
  • Cost: Free
  • Contact: Patrick Mulligan, WPA Education Supervisor, 206-616-3381, Simsigan@uw.edu