Positive signs are popping up in Vancouver Island forests this fall, as long awaited rain soaks ground that’s been gripped by drought.
Once abundant wild mushrooms were a no show until just weeks ago, and are now returning after a record drought in 2022 decimated stocks and left foragers without income.
Whacking back bush and climbing downed trees near Qualicum Beach, Neil Horner is on the hunt for treasure.
“It’s like Jurassic Park, only no dinosaurs,” says the mushroom picker.
This seasoned forager’s eye is trained for a distinct shape and colour in this carpet of green forest floor.
“Oh,” he says , stopping in his tracks. “Perfect chanterelle.”
“I love this, it’s an all day treasure hunt and there’s actually treasure, and it’s even gold coloured,” Horner says.
Mushrooms are cropping up all over Vancouver Island with fall’s heavy rains.
It’s a crop that Horner has been holding his breath for after a dismal wild mushroom season in 2022.
When drought conditions persisted so intensely right through the fall, forgers told CHEK News that mushrooms had nearly vanished entirely from the rainforest’s many foraging patches last year.
“I’ve never seen a situation like that, where you can go out for six hours in October and in a forest around here and not see any mushrooms,” said Arrowsmith naturalist Terry Taylor on Oct. 23, 2022.
According to Vancouver Island University Professor of Plant Ecology and Genomics, Dr. Jasmine James, this return to wet weather came at a critical time.
“Last year was a disaster in all respects. It was dry, dry, dry and the same year before we had the heat dome,” she said. “But this year it was dry, dry, dry but as of mid-October it got nice and wet and it popped back.”
“That has really led to this boom that we are seeing for the mushrooms and I think probably because they had a bad year the year before, they’ve been building up those resources so they can send up even more fruiting bodies,” she added.
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This summer’s extreme drought did bring a very late start to the mushroom season, so foragers are hoping for a mild November to eke out a few more weeks of picking before the season’s through.
“This year we’re starting in October and it’s almost over,” said Horner.
It makes the treasure he finds even more valuable as foragers vie for a piece of B.C.’s multi-million dollar wild mushroom harvest and find a late but great crop now waiting to be found.