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AS FUNGI BLOOM INTO THE MAINSTREAM,A RESEARCH STATION HIDDEN IN THE B.C. RAINFOREST AIMS TO UNCOVER SOME OF THE MYSTERIES OF MUSHROOMS
BY ANDREW FINDLAY
WITH PHOTOGRAPHY BY KARI MEDIG

B RANDEN WALLE balances avcross a movss-covered cedar, long since fallen and now home to a miniature forest of hemlock seedlings and countless other unseen organisms. Sunlight flickers through the rainforest canopy. Gentle waves lap the nearby beach of Kapoose Creek, where a half-hour earlier Walle followed fresh wolf prints in sand still damp from an early morning outgoing tide.

“Let’s go climb that bank. I haven’t explored there yet,” says Walle, director of biology at Kapoose Creek, a secluded research station on the remote west coast of Vancouver Island that is emblematic of a growing worldwide fascination with all things fungi. There’s potential magic in the profusion of mushrooms here. Kapoose Creek is dedicated to unlocking some of this magic and finding new natural drug compounds derived from fungi.

To forage for fungi is to enter a still largely unexploredworld of wonders. The hunt never gets old for Walle.Growing up in Victoria, Walle spent many autumn dayshunting with his dad and foraging for wild mushrooms inthe Sooke Hills and elsewhere on southern VancouverIsland. They mostly sought common tasty varieties likepines and chanterelles. Those youthful forays sparked apassion for mushrooms that stayed with Walle throughhis university years and beyond. After ditching postgraduatestudies in biochemistry, he continued foraging.He also learned to cultivate mushrooms.

“I started by using my bathroom as a fruiting chamberand an instant pot to sterilize substrate,” he says,laughing.What began as a hobby led to him launching a smallcommercial operation, growing edible species with goodshelf life and high commercial value like lion’s mane,oyster and shiitake mushrooms. In doing so, he becameconnected to a network of fungiphiles as wide-ranging asmycelium, the root-like structure of fungi that spreadsthroughout the subterranean world in massive colonies.”Look – a morel,” Walle says after crossing the log andclawing his way up the bank. “They love disturbed siteslike this.” He points out how soil has sloughed down the bank.