Even as a child, Kara Weeber was collecting pine mushrooms.
She recalls her father, who began collecting the mushroom in the early 1980s, walking her through dense bush all over the Skeena watershed and showing her where the mushroom grew.
Her father Pieter, who also served as mayor of New Hazelton for 17 years over two separate periods, was one of the first people in the region who began picking pine mushrooms.
“He was kind of obsessed with them,” she told The Interior News.
Pine mushrooms are known as an aphrodisiac within Japanese culture and were once abundant in the country’s own forests.
However high demand and a steady decline over the past decades has created markets for the mushroom overseas in places like Northern B.C., where high-quality specimens can fetch a high price back in Japan — sometimes up to $30 a pound.
In her research Weeber said she estimates about 80 to 85 per cent of pine mushrooms sold in Northern B.C. end up back in Japanese markets.
She said her father was one among one of the first in the region to catalyze the local market.
“He was selling them dry to begin with and then found someone who would want them fresh and then it kind of snowballed from there.”
Weeber said that the price for wet pine mushrooms (she doesn’t sell them dried) varies widely, noting that while prices were around $15 a pound at the start of the month, they’re closer to $6 a pound now.
Pieter passed away in 2013, but his spirit undoubtedly lives on in his daughter, who has continued his tradition of hunting for pine mushrooms year after year, often times in the very same spots her father showed her decades before, as pine mushrooms will often grow back in the same spots annually.
“He named a patch he’d taught me well ‘Kara’s Patch’ when he kept track of the days we checked it on his calendar.
“The last morning he was fully conscious I went to that patch for the first time by myself and found more than we’d found [that] year combined.”
Weeber said that when she brought her haul back to the hospital to show him he was so proud. I brought them to the hospital and he was so proud I’d done it all on my own.
“It makes me feel closer to him — I know that he’d be proud.”
More recently, she has collected these locations, as well as more she has found through trial-and-error and tips from other hunters in the area, into a digital map.
Weeber said while many go looking for pine mushrooms, not everyone finds them.
Additionally, she said the most valuable pine mushrooms are the ones still partially submerged within the ground, making them much harder for your average forager to see.
Once they’re out of the moss Weeber said they’re much easier to find, but also worth a lot less.
Although the Terrace mushroom picker almost exclusively hunts for pines, she said this doesn’t stop her from appreciating the overall beauty of fungi in general, often going on nature hikes with her entire family and taking photos of all the specimens they come across.
Weeber said her experience for this year is in line with national reports that 2019 has been a once-in-a-lifetime year for mushrooms in northern B.C.,
“It’s crazy — there’s mushrooms I’ve never seen before and ones that I haven’t seen for a few years that are just kind of everywhere.”
“I’ve found so many neat new things.”
Weeber said it’s a complete reversal of 2018, when drier conditions made for a poor mushroom season in the region.
“I took a fungi course last year in the summer … and it was like super depressing because I was super excited for this course and then there were no mushrooms anywhere,” she said, adding she had to travel to Prince Rupert — which has a rainier climate — to find pines.
“This year they’re everywhere and there’s all kinds of interesting ones.
“I’ll be walking through the forest and see one and be like, oh what are you?”
But while mushrooms might be on the rise specifically in 2019, Weeber said she’s seen a general trend towards an increase in people interested in mushroom foraging over the past years.
“I think it’s just because there’s such a huge variety of edible mushrooms and people are into wild foods and foraging and that kind of stuff, it’s this real growing trend.”
And while you’re likely to find Weeber hands deep in the forest floor with a basket full of dirt-encrusted pine mushrooms, you won’t find her with them — or any mushroom — on her dinner plate,
“I don’t eat mushrooms … I’m just obsessed with them,” she said with a laugh.