Local mycologist Dr. Denis Benjamin will speak at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas in Fort Worth on May 7 from 8:30am-noon.

May 3, 2016

Over the centuries, they’ve been used for food, folk remedies, dyes and psychedelics. They come in all shapes and a variety of colors, still most people are only familiar with the mushrooms they see in the grocery store produce aisle.

mycologist Denis Benjamin of BRITOn Saturday, May 7, North Texans will have the opportunity to learn all about mushrooms, including those that grow in our region, by attending, “The Underground World of Mushrooms,” a workshop hosted by the Botanical Research Institute of Texas in Fort Worth. Mushroom expert Dr. Denis Benjamin will share his vast knowledge and experience with mushrooms, in the hope that participants will leave with an appreciation for these umbrella-shaped fungi as well as the proper methods for collecting and photographing samples.  

Dr. Denis Benjamin will share the best places to find wild mushrooms.

Originally from South Africa, Benjamin relocated to Seattle in 1970, where he practiced pediatric pathology. A nature lover at heart, he began hiking all over the Pacific Northwest. 

“I would see mushrooms growing, but I didn’t care about them,” admits Benjamin. 

That was about to change, when one day, he ducked into a mushroom convention to avoid the rain. 

“I had an epiphany, or as close to one as I’ve ever had! There were 500 species of fungi there – some I didn’t even realize were mushrooms - they looked like brains and corals,” recalls Benjamin. 

Six hours later, he left with a mushroom identification book and a newfound interest. 

This interest sprouted into a passion when Benjamin discovered morel mushrooms in his yard. Eager to try them, he rushed to the kitchen to make a morel omelet and was blown away by their taste. 

Amanita Muscaria mushroom“Morels have a very distinctive flavor – one I’ve never tasted before,” shares Benjamin. 

Since then, he’s tasted more than 80 mushrooms, but morels remain one of his favorites.

Soon after that, Benjamin joined the local mushroom society and honed his identification skills – important for any “mushroomer” to acquire. Mushroom-related deaths in America are low (0-6 per year, total) and most are due to mistaken identification.

Amanita muscaria, commonly known as the fly agaric or fly amanita, is classified as poisonous and noted for its hallucinogenic properties. -Wikipedia

Soon Benjamin became the mushroom poisoning consultant at his hospital’s poison center and authored a comprehensive book devoted to the “poisons and panaceas” of mushrooms, which is still considered a landmark publication almost 20 years later. 

In 2000, Benjamin joined The Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth. In a new ecological landscape, he found himself surrounded by species of mushrooms unique to this area, known as the Cross Timbers region, which begins in Central Texas and stretches through North Texas, ending in southern Kansas. 

Known for its quick-changing climate and alkaline soil, the Cross Timbers is not good habitat for mushrooms. When they do manage to pop up, they disappear quickly. As a result, little is known about mushrooms in this area. But Benjamin is hoping to change this. 

In 2014, Benjamin became a resident research associate at BRIT, curating its extensive mushroom collection, inherited mostly from SMU and Vanderbilt University and educating the public about the crucial role mushrooms and fungi, which includes mushrooms, play in our planetary ecosystem.

Chanterelles mushroomMost plants contain fungi in their root system, which assists them in drawing in minerals from the soil, especially in extreme environments such as droughts. And we can thank fungi for helping us keep our world clean, as they act as nature’s recycler, decomposing organic matter, such as dead grass and leaves. Fungi also provide us with penicillin. 

Chanterelle mushrooms is an edible mushroom, which emits a fruity aroma, reminiscent of apricots and a mildly peppery taste​. -Wikipedia

“Basically, no fungi, no plants, no people,” declares Benjamin. 

And even though no evidence exists to support the health claims of any mushroom products found in health food stores, recent research shows psilocybin, found in “psychedelic mushrooms,” may have therapeutic uses including helping cancer patients handle the emotions that come with the diagnosis. And there’s so much more to learn!

In just over three hours, Benjamin’s workshops are packed with valuable information including anatomy, identification methods and how to choose the perfect foraging spot. He also demonstrates how to collect, photograph and preserve mushrooms in hopes of creating a local community of mushroom curators.

“I want people to send the mushrooms they find to us, so we can put them into BRIT’s collection, so they are available for people to study them in the future. It’s about learning as much as we can about mushrooms,” says Benjamin.

The Underground World of Mushrooms

What: Local mycologist Dr. Denis Benjamin will introduce participants to the wide variety of mushrooms in North Central Texas and the proper methods for collecting and photographing samples.

When: May 7, 8:30am-noon.

Where: The Botanical Research Institute of Texas, 1700 University, Fort Worth

Cost: $15


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