Fungi Tackle the Eucalyptus

Members of BAAM at work in the East Bay Hills: They are employing the ubiquitous “jack-o-lantern” bioluminescent fungus in a study intended to demonstrate a way to break down eucalyptus stumps in fire-prone areas. (Photos courtesy of Mino de Angelis and BAAM)

 

Mycoremediation in the East Bay Hills

By Jillian Steinberger-Foster

 

Longtime East Bay residential contractor Mino de Angelis had an idea about “giving back.” His wife, Fusako, had been an anti-nuclear activist, but rather than saving the world, he just wanted to save the forest and not use it for two-by-fours.

An active member of the Mycological Society of San Francisco, de Angelis felt the organization should go beyond mushroom taxonomy and cuisine and focus on learning how mushrooms can do miraculous things like eating plastic and concrete. In 2010, he rounded up others with similar interests to start a citizen science group. Initially called Bay Area Radical Mycology, with a name switch to Bay Area Applied Mycology, BAAM is now one of several groups around the country contributing to projects in mycoremediation.

Aiming toward modeling better ecological practices in forest management, BAAM took up an experiment on East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) forestland west of Grizzly Peak. The goal was to help manage the invasive eucalyptus trees, which have to be culled to reduce fire risk.

“It’s strenuous work,” says de Angelis. “You’re always walking over fallen limbs in a eucalyptus grove.” The hillside, strewn with boulders and tree debris, also has copious poison oak and potential for ticks.

The author of the study is Harte Singer, whom de Angelis calls “the new face of mycoremediation in this region.” A graduate student working in Dr. Brian Perry’s mycology lab at Cal State East Bay, Harte also has a lab at home, and he’s able to find DNA results quickly, tracking outcomes.

With this project, BAAM is using a fungus to prevent eucalyptus stumps from resprouting back into full trees, which they can do for up to 10 years after being cut. The task is typically accomplished using high-powered chemical herbicides like Garlon, but on EBMUD land, it’s done with manual labor since district policy excludes use of herbicides. If the BAAM crew can accelerate the demise of these trees using local fungi, they save loads of labor and taxpayer money while also reducing fire risk.

The fungus used in this pilot study is Omphalotus olivascens, also known as Jack-o’-Lantern, which Harte explains “is virtually endemic to California, grows on a variety of hardwoods, isn’t likely to infect healthy trees, and produces bioluminescent fruiting bodies.” The study includes 100 trees; 50 are inoculated, and the other 50 are control trees. During work parties, the group inoculates the stumps with dowels bearing spawn. The desired outcome is that the fungus inhibits growth of the trees’ cambium layer by eating up its sugars.

“If we can demonstrate that our mushroom method works, they could get the annual tree maintenance down to three years,” says de Angelis. “After three years, the fungi will have curtailed the ability of the cambium layer to produce enough sugar for the tree to sprout. What we’re trying for is that 100% of our 50 inoculated trees are dead, inactive within 3 years.”

With Harte’s leadership, the BAAM group is following rigorous scientific protocols and keeping the meticulous notes they will need to make a persuasive case to East Bay Regional Parks to stop using Garlon—the immediate goal—and lay the groundwork for wider adoption of fungi to kill invasive trees. “We’ll have to demonstrate, one stump at a time, the effectiveness of the fungal method,” says de Angelis.

To get involved in BAAM, visit Harte Singer’s Mycelial Mass Mushroom Meetup on Facebook or bayareaappliedmycology.com.

MATSUTAKE SAKE

“An elegant drink to watch the moon by while composing haiku and eating delicious food in small amounts,” is how Mino de Angelis describes matsutake sake, a homemade aperitif popular among the mushroom crowd. To make it, simply warm up some sake, add matsutake mushrooms, and let steep for ½ hour, covered. He adds, “You don’t want to evaporate the sake; you’re just extracting the matsutake essence.”

Right: Mino de Angelis still enjoys reading writer Jillian Steinberger-Foster’s epic feature story, “Hidden Kingdom of the Blobs,” in Edible East Bay’s Winter 2013 issue.