Mushrooms freshly foraged from area forests will be on display at the Illinois Mycological Association Mushroom Show & Sale, taking place from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 7, at the Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake-Cook Road in Glencoe.
The free public event provides the chance to learn about mushroom hunting and the important role fungi play in our ecosystems. Fungi proliferate throughout Illinois, channeling water and nutrients to trees, and recycling these nutrients by decomposing dead wood and leaves. Humans harness fungi as well, using the organisms in yeasts, antibiotics, cheese cultures and more.
Mushrooms -- the reproductive body growing from a much larger fungus -- are prized for their flavors and nutritional benefits. Members of the Illinois Mycological Association can describe taste differences among diverse species, and give tips for preparing and cooking wild mushrooms. The association, made up of enthusiasts and professional mycologists, is dedicated to teaching and learning about all aspects of the fungal world.
Educational activities geared to children will be available, and visitors can shop for mushrooms and related books, T-shirts and other items.
Here are a few samples of "fungi" facts you can pick up at the festival:
• The greater Chicago area is home to more than 1,000 species of fungi, and scientists at the Chicago Botanic Garden and other research institutions are discovering new species every year, says Greg Mueller, Ph.D., chief scientist and Negaunee Foundation vice president of science.
• Consumption of mushrooms is on the rise in the United States, reports the USDA Agricultural Research Service, increasing from 3.7 pounds per person in 1993 to 4.2 pounds per person in 2000.
• One portabella mushroom has more potassium than a banana, according to the USDA Agricultural Research Service. Potassium helps maintain a normal heart rhythm, fluid balance, and muscle and nerve function. Mushrooms are also an excellent source of copper, which the body needs to produce red blood cells, and selenium, important to the human immune and thyroid systems.
• Researchers at the Chicago Botanic Garden are documenting the distribution of diverse fungi around the world, and investigating how fungi respond to man-made stresses in the environment. They're also evaluating restoration practices in Chicago, and conservation practices in Costa Rica and China.
• The largest living organism ever found is a honey mushroom (Armillaria ostoyae) covering 3.4 square miles in eastern Oregon, according to the USDA.
• Some mushrooms are bioluminescent, emitting an eerie glow best seen in the dark, according to the USDA.
Follow this link to learn more about the Illinois Mycological Association: illinoismyco.org.