North Cowichan is ‘home’ to rare, beautiful mushroom associated with arbutus

Municipal Douglas-fir forests are a fungi hotbed

One of BC’s rarest and most beautiful mushrooms is almost certainly found in North Cowichan’s Six Mountains — and it has a direct connection to arbutus trees.

 

Andy MacKinnon, a forest ecologist who has co-written a book on BC mushrooms, says in an interview with sixmountains.ca that Christmas Tubaria (Tubaria punicea) is

found on rotten and sometimes burned arbutus bases and stumps.

 

That automatically restricts the mushroom’s range, since arbutus trees are found in Canada only in southeastern Vancouver Island, the southern Gulf Islands, and a thin strip along the drier BC mainland’s south coast.

 

Mature arbutus trees that have rotten bases are rarer still. 

 

“Having the right habitat doesn’t guarantee that the mushroom will be there. On one Vancouver Island site where a hundred large arbutus were surveyed, only two populations of the mushroom were found,” MacKinnnon adds.

 

“Rare as it is, it's almost certainly” found in North Cowichan’s 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve, he says. “So, next time you're hiking or biking in the forest, generally November through January, why not incorporate a Christmas Tubaria hunt into your activities?”

 

Arbutus trees have suffered over the years from a leaf blight — a parasitic fungus —- that can cause the trees to partially or fully defoliate. Climate change may be exacerbating the situation.

 

MacKinnon says he has not received many reports recently about the blight, but is also unaware of anyone specifically monitoring the disease.

 

He noted that North Cowichan’s Douglas-fir forests create some of the most fertile mushroom conditions in BC and are a great candidate for a fungi inventory. 

 

“How about a North Cowichan mushroom festival?” 

 

Christmas Tubaria is so-called because this is the time of year when it fruits.

 

It has a cap up to five centimetres across (but usually half this size) that is wine red to blood red, MacKinnon says. The cap surface is shiny and dry. The stem of the mushroom, which can be up to eight centimetres long (usually much shorter), is also wine red and often has white veil remnants in a ring zone. The spore deposit is cinnamon brown.

 

Anyone who finds Christmas Tubaria is encouraged to report its location to inaturalist.org.

 

MacKinnon lives in Metchosin and is co-author of Plants of Coastal British Columbia. His latest book, Mushrooms of British Columbia (rbcm.ca/mushrooms), co-authored with Kem Luther, is a Royal BC Museum Handbook due for release in September 2021.

 

You can pre-order the book at rbcm.ca/mushrooms.

 

(Photo courtesy of Rich Mably).

 

Larry Pynn, Dec. 29, 2020

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