Some discoveries come from the stars —and some grow beneath our feet.
Western University professor Greg Thorn has shaken the mycological world with not one but three discoveries about prized edible mushrooms called golden chanterelles. Thorn, a fungal ecologist in Western’s Department of Biology, has found that the common chanterelles of eastern North America have for decades been a case of mistaken identity.
“We’ve been calling these by the Latin name Cantharellus cibarius for years – the same classification given to the European species of chanterelles. But it turns out this thing that we thought we knew really well, which grows from coast to coast, isn’t what we thought it was,” he said.
His team conducted a DNA analysis of the mushroom and found its genetic code differed so much it needed to be classified a wholly different species. They have named it Cantharellus enelensis in honour of Newfoundland, where the samples were found.
Thorn’s team also found two less common species of golden chanterelles: one species that hadn’t yet been found in North America, and another that had not been found since a single report from Nova Scotia 40 years earlier. They also grow in different ecologies, under birch, balsam and spruce trees. At the other end of the country, their analyses revealed another new species of chanterelle for Canada, Cantharellus cascadensis, among specimens in the UBC herbarium.
“It’s only through DNA analysis that we were able to discover their dissimilarities from the European species, Cantharellus cibarius,” he said. “The good news is that all these species of chanterelles are edible and tasty.”
The discovery shows, he said, that some wonders of this planet have yet to be explored. And while other countries and other continents might have a greater range of colourful native birds or flowers, this nation also has reason to boast. “Our fungal diversity is something that Canadians should be proud of.”
The discovery is printed in a recent edition of the publication Botany. Other co-researchers and authors include former Western University student Jee In Kim; Renée Lebeuf, a science translator and mycologist from Quebec; and Andrus Voitk, the leading authority on Newfoundland mushrooms and coordinator of that province’s annual mushroom foray.
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