🌋🍄 We had the pleasure of catching up with Ben Lilibridge founder of The Hawaii Fungi project and Malama Mushrooms.
We met near Mauna Kea, one of the two main volcanoes of the island of Hawaii, and the world’s tallest mountain (over 10,000m, with 6000m submerged in the ocean!) and explored a trail following a 300-year-old lava flow where areas of old growth forest have been spared by more recent lava flows.
The act of encircling these older forests ends up cutting them off from the rest of the island’s ecosystem that it provides a unique habitat for endemic birds and plants to flourish. These slightly elevated thousand-year-old forests are called kipuka which translates to tree holes in Hawaiian.
Ben, the founder of Hawaii Fungi Project, a research and taxonomic project dedicated to understanding and preserving mushrooms that are endemic to the region, was bringing us deep into the kipuka to hunt for mushrooms unique to that specific ecosystem, and nowhere else on the island.
With him, he brought a local mycologist friend, Lynx Gallagher, who himself is a biogeographer, thus has expertise on organisms and biological communities that vary along geographic gradients of latitude, elevation, isolation and habitat and was extremely familiar with the mushrooms that have been identified and/or discovered there.
Both were incredibly knowledgeable, warm-spirited and fun to be around that it made me feel not only at home, but excited and inspired by the importance of mushroom conservation projects.
We didn’t have much luck finding mushrooms that weren’t from the gemnopus invasive species in the kipuka as it was a little dry, unusual for the season. However, Ben brought us to a small pine outcrop at the foot of Mauna Kea and we managed to find some non-native porcini like mushrooms, which are on the menu for a future meal.