Prize-winning fungus among us — results of the PDN’s mushroom contest

EDITOR’S NOTE: Columnist Matt Schubert’s work normally appears in Sports, Page B1, on Thursdays and Fridays. His bonus column today chronicles the mushroom contest he recently organized.

FUNGI GENERALLY TAKE a back seat to the North Olympic Peninsula’s other treasures.

Some might even say mushrooms aren’t getting their just due around these parts.

Peninsulites have created festivals for everything from rain to ditches to lavender (which, by the way, isn’t even an indigenous plant).

And yet fungi, of which the Pacific Northwest has approximately 3,000 different species, receive little in the way of love.

Perhaps the lack of recognition has something to do with the inherent ugliness that accompanies so many different mushrooms (more on that later), or maybe even the fact that fungi are, in fact, organisms that prey upon the dead and dying.

After all, who wants to celebrate such parasitic tendencies?

There’s little doubt that the secretive nature of mushroom hunters, who vigorously guard their secret SSRqshroom spots, certainly doesn’t help.

Regardless of the cause, it’s plain to see that there just isn’t enough honest public discussion about the fungus among us. That’s why we here at the PDN decided to shed a little light on the subject.

At the behest of Publisher John Brewer, a fungus fan if I’ve ever seen one, yours truly put together “Mushroom Mania,” a contest that merged my keen use of alliteration with the Peninsula’s secretive fondness for fungi.

The charge was made to you, the exalted readers, to “show me your SSRqshrooms.”

There were three categories created for Mushroom Mania: ugliest, largest and mushroom most resembling a landmark.

Each category could have only one winner, and each submission had to be of an edible mushroom.

Surprisingly, the mushroom hunters came out of the woodwork. Not surprisingly, many broke the rules.

I think it’s safe to say the competition was fierce, quite possibly a reflection of these fiscally tight times (the winners receive $50).

With a special thanks to the Olympic Peninsula Mycological Society for its help with identification, here are your winners:

•âÇLargest mushroom: It seemed that everyone wanted a piece of this category, proving once again that bigger is better in the minds of most Americans.

A total of 13 photos were submitted of several different species, with the winner coming out of the West End.

Forks resident Gene Barker found his 10-pound cauliflower mushroom near the South Fork Hoh River. It was so big it couldn’t fit into his five-gallon bucket.

• Ugliest mushroom — Given that this particular category is completely subjective, judging between all the grotesque submissions was no easy task.

It truly is amazing how many different species of fungi bear a strong resemblance to throw-up.

In the end, it was like trying to judge which prime-time cop drama is the most detestable. With so many choices, how could one ever be sure?

After much deliberation, it came down to two pieces of unsightly fungi: Brinnon resident Beaux Billeaudeaux’s Lobster Mushroom and a truly disgusting piece of fungi from Penny Burdick of Sequim called a Hooded Helvella.

I decided to go with the Helvella until it was revealed that it was poisonous . . . to more than just the eyes.

As a result, your winner is the Lobster mushroom (aka Hypomyces lactifluorum), which isn’t exactly winning any beauty contests itself.

• Landmark mushroom — For whatever reason, this one didn’t inspire a whole lot of interest. It did, however, produce the oddest submission of the entire contest from Port Angeles’ Jim Taylor.

Taylor claimed that his mushroom, called a “puffball,” resembled Dolly Parton’s chest, which he said is “a true national landmark.” I found that to be a bit of a stretch.

Therefore, I decided to go with another Billeaudeaux submission, this time from Olympic Peninsula Mycological Society president Bobbi Billeaudeaux.

It was a Boletus edulis (aka King Bolete), which happens to look a lot like the Seattle Space Needle.

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Sportswriter/columnist Matt Schubert can be reached at 360-417-3526 or matt.schubert@peninsuladailynews.com.