Mushroaming in Tobago
Jeffrey Wong Sang is a member of the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists Club and an amateur mycologist who chose to study fungi to fill a gap that has long existed in the local biodiversity of Trinidad and Tobago. He is the administrator of only local Facebook group “Mushrooms of Trinidad and Tobago" with a following of just over 800. His current objective is to raise awareness of the existence of the mushrooms and share his knowledge. To encourage others to appreciate our mushrooms, his goal is to have this country’s first Mushroom Museum.
Mushroaming you ask? Yes, it is one’s ability to walk in nature and relax and explore whilst looking for mushrooms.
A mushroom can be defined as the fruiting body of a fungus, and the world’s largest living organism, is a honey fungus in the Blue Mountains in Oregon stretching 2.4 miles.
|Orange veiled lady (Phallus multicolor) sparked the fascination with mushrooms All photos courtesy Jeffrey Wong Sang|
Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)
What originally began as a fascination with the physical beauty has now “mushroomed” into a full science project to locate, photograph, document, identify and preserve the local mushrooms for the public to be aware of the existence of these little known beauties we commonly refer to as jumbie umbrellas or jumbie parasols. Steeped in folklore, fungi are sometimes feared for being the spirit of dead evil persons. The foraging of wild mushrooms for food is not commonly practiced in Trinidad and Tobago because of this stigma; and it is not surprising that not much more work has been done to research, for example, the next cure for diabetes or cancer.
In 1951, the first book “Fungi of Trinidad and Tobago” by R.E.D. Baker and W.T. Dale was published. This was the first documentation of our Fungi. Many years later, in 2006, this was followed by another study over a five year period (2001-2006): the book “Fungi of the Caribbean” by Minter, Rodriguez and Mena is to this day considered the “bible” for Caribbean Fungi . It documented 5,193 specimens which I use as my base data for the current project. I am able to add new photography and real preserved specimens that may be shown to the public. All the Mushroom specimens are currently being preserved in alcohol; in the future, we hope to preserve the larger specimens by Plastination, which is a safe process of infusing the specimens with preserving chemicals.
|Jeffrey with Macrocybe titans|
Golden Trumpet (Xeromphalina campenella)
Mushroom collecting for the Museum actually began in Tobago in August 2015 in Castara where I find solace in the greenery of the forest of the North Coast. Many areas are still to be explored and some limited mushroaming has been enjoyed in Lambeau, Plymouth, the north coast from Castara to Charlotteville, the famous Gilpin Trail and Pigeon Peak. The Main Ridge Forest beckons to be explored in more detail; and we hope that, with sponsorship, we may continue to document the Tobago specimens.
In November 2015, the fourth TT Bioblitz came to Tobago; and Charlotteville was chosen as the base camp. All specimens within a five mile radius were counted in a 24 -hour time frame. The Fungus group was able to document 30 Fungi in the period allocated.
Tobagonians were invited to see the first public Mushroom display at the Bioblitz base camp. The mushroom collection continues to grow in leaps and bounds and is currently looking for a public space to permanently house the accumulation while continuing the public education drive, through displays in malls and schools. Requests for displays may be sent to TTFNC ( admin @ttfnc.org).
The science of the project is also taking off, and the UWI Life Sciences department has consented to assist in identifying the already collected specimens using DNA technology. The first 30 specimens have been submitted and we are awaiting results.
So take a walk in the wild and breathe. Look for some mushrooms and post your pictures with a note about the location on the Facebook page, Mushrooms of Trinidad and Tobago. It will relax you, and you'll be contributing to an exciting research project.
|Split gill fungus (Schizophyllum commune)|
|Orange cup fungus (Cookeina sp)|
Common field mushroom (Chlorophyllum molybdites)
|Violet branched Coral fungus (Clavulina amethystina)|