Kuujjuaq Fungi: Project Report

Kuujjuaq Project Report

Fungi of the Kuujjuaq region, Nunavik, Quebec, Canada
Collections made 12-18 August 2007 by Lawrence Millman

In 2007, I received a grant from Nunavik’s Makivik Corporation to study the mushrooms in and around Kuujjuaq. This community, the largest in Nunavik, was ideally situated for mycological research, since it was both above and below the tree-line. Here are the results:

See also: Twenty Kuujjuaq Fungi, and the Kuujjuaq Species List.

Kuujjuaq Project Report

Kuujuaq, in northern Quebec, Canada

The red arrow points out Kuujjuaq, an Inuit community in northern Quebec, Canada.

To the best of my knowledge, no one had ever given serious attention to the fungi (i.e., mushrooms) of the Kuujjuaq region before my August 12-18, 2007 visit. During this visit, I collected ~ 60 different species, including a few — but only a few — good edibles, and with such a relatively large species count, I disproved the popular notion that there aren’t any fungi in the North. Actually, there would hardly be any plant life in the North without fungi, or at least without so-called mycorrhizal fungi. For the underground portion of these fungi, known as a mycelium, shuttles much-needed nutrients, especially nitrogen, to the roots of 95% of all plants and trees in both the boreal forest and the tundra. If it weren’t for this shuttling service, most of the plants and trees in question would not survive.

In and around Kuujjuaq, I investigated three more or less different habitats: northern boreal forest (southwest of Kuujjuaq), tundra (north and west of town), and the mixed- disturbed area between the airport and the Koksoak River. Most of the fungi I identified in these habitats were host-specific mycorrhizal species. For example, Lactarius rufus (Red Hot Milky) and Leccinum scabrum (Birch Bolete) grew with spruce and dwarf birch, respectively. The habitat with the greatest number of species was the area between the airport and the Koksoak River. For it’s usually the case that the greater the variety of plants and trees, the greater the variety of fungi. On the other hand, the habitat with the largest fungal biomass was — perhaps surprisingly — the tundra. One reason for this is that there isn’t as much competition for space in a tundra as there is in a forest or a mixed habitat. Another reason: the large, anchoring roots of tundra plants and trees seem to inspire fungal mycelia to produce fruiting bodies.

Among local Inuit, there’s almost no tradition for harvesting fungi. Mushrooms are referred to as tunitniqingit, caribou food, and the general sense I got from speaking with elders was that they were fit for caribou, but not human consumption. One elder did mention that the puffball known as a pujuolak was used medicinally when he was growing up. If someone cut himself, he’d place the soft yellow spore mass of a pujuolak on the wound, then tie it there with a string. The puffball would keep the wound from getting infected and also aided in the healing process. Strange as this might seem, it does have a basis in science, since some fungi (pencillin is, after all, made by a fungus) have strong antibiotic properties. However, the medicinal use of pujuolaks seems to have died out in the Kuujjuaq area.

As part of this project, I was asked to identify potentially harvestable mushrooms, and the two species I would most recommend are Leccinum scabrum (Birch Bolete) and Leccinum insigne (Aspen Bolete). The field differences between these two boletes are slight — L. scabrum usually has more pronounced projections on its stalk, and L. insigne typically stains purplish-grey, then black when cut or bruised. As both are good edibles, there’s no need to make a positive ID before collecting them. Also, both fruit in considerable quantities during the mushroom season, August and September. Since they likewise fruit in considerable quantities in other parts of Canada, I would not encourage attempts to market them. Note: Another good edible, Rozites caperata (Gypsy), fruits in the area, but as there’s a slight risk of confusing it with a poisonous Amanita, I would not recommend it to beginners.

As a cautionary measure, I asked Michael Kwan to test tissue samples of several Leccinum specimens for toxic elements. After all, the harvest of edible mushrooms in certain parts of northern Europe has occasionally been curtailed due to pollutants in the air or the ground. The result of these tests was reassuring. There were measurable amounts of cadmium and mercury in the mushrooms’ caps, but the concentrations were not high enough to be a health concern. Lead was hardly detectable, and nickel and arsenic levels were both very low. Thus the two Leccinums are safe to collect (idea: give them an Inuktitut name).

With this project, I hope I have laid a useful foundation for the future study of fungi — whether by me or someone else — in the Kuujjuaq region, indeed in Nunavik itself.

Kuujjuak Fungi
Proceed to Twenty Mushrooms of the Kuujjuaq Area, or the Kuujjuaq Full Species List.

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Sir John Franklin’s Lost Diary

On September 9, 2014, Parks Canada discovered the remains of the HMS Erebus, explorer Sir John Franklin’s remarkably newsworthy flagship. Among the artifacts retrieved from the ship was a Fortnum & Mason jar labelled “Sweets.” The jar did not contain any sweets, but rather a diary written by Sir John himself — a diary that solves at least part of the so-called Franklin mystery. What follows is that diary’s final entries:

FranklinApril 30, 1847. Ship lies groaning & straining in the ice off King William Island. On a whim, I brought out my maps of Arctic Canada, only to discover that the Admiralty had provided me with maps of Polynesia — an unfortunate error.

May 2, 1847. Sore gums & loose teeth indicate that many of the crew have scurvy, so I spoke out against this nefarious French disease & initiated tango lessons and likewise bench pressing of the ship’s spittoons to ward it off.

May 3, 1847. Ship still mired in the ice. The bosun, in the midst of a tango maneuver, fell overboard, went through the ice, & was promptly torn to shreds by a school of man-eating isobars. Bloody Arctic!

May 5, 1847. Dreamt Lady Jane came for a visit & asked, “Sir John, why are you late to supper?” “I’m looking for the Northwest Passage, dear,” I told her. “But you can’t eat the Northwest Passage, can you?” she replied ominously, then vanished.

May 8, 1847. Lost three men today, one to scurvy, another to terminal gingivitis, & yet another to ennui. To make matters worse, the steward told me, in his inimitable fashion, “we ain’t got no more elevenses for you, sir.” How can I captain this expedition without my elevenses?

May 11, 1847. The cook extremely upset over our empty larders. Says there isn’t even any solder left inside our food tins. “Hang in there, old chap,” I told him, but the roar of the wind in the ship’s rigging garbled my words, & he tried to hang himself. At least the men are still obeying my orders.

May 12, 1847. Dense fog. We can’t even see the ship’s prow, much less a possible shortcut to the Orient.

May 14, 1847. We’re totally out of crumpets, so I had to feed Cedric [Cedric was Franklin’s pet toucan] a few forlorn scraps of hardtack. Not surprisingly, he squawked in protest.

May 15, 1847. Took bearings & discovered that, instead of corpulent, I am now merely portly. Remarkable that I can now ascend the mast-head as well as descend from it.

May 17, 1847. Men shivering almost constantly, & their beards are hung with icicles, as the Admiralty somehow has seen fit to supply us with tuxedos & cummerbunds rather than parkas. Wrote a letter of protest to the First Lord, then such was my hunger that I proceeded to eat it.

May 27, 1847. Several Savages [Eskimoes] with prognathous jaws visited the ship today. They brought us a batch of pemmican eggs. Alas, all rotten. Must have been laid before the great pemmican migration south. In return, we gave each of the Savages a tuxedo & cummerbund.

May 29, 1847. More misfortune — one of the crew, doubtless a petty officer, has eaten poor Cedric! I said to Fitzjames [Franklin’s second-in-command], “Find the bounder responsible for this & give him a taste of the cat.” “Sorry, sir,” Fitzjames told me, “but we’ve already eaten the ship’s cat.”

May 31, 1847. Lieutenant Orme, a clean-shaven fellow except for his clump of grizzled whiskers, broke into my cabin & consumed the contents of my chamber pot, then began singing “Rule, Brittania.” I put him in the section of the sick bay reserved for nutters.

June 5, 1847. Weary of being mired in ice, we abandoned ship & began making our way to Back’s Fish River, thence, we hope, to England’s green & pleasant land. The men carried me in a sedan chair. Two days into our journey, I realized I’d forgotten my robe & slippers, so we marched back to the ship.

June 8, 1847. Abandoned the ship a second time. Curiously, my sedan chair seems to have disappeared, & I’m now being manhauled in a sledge filled with towels, kettles, sail-maker’s palms, porcelain cups, bedding, checkerboards, our portative organ, longboats, etc.

June 9, 1847. Met a group of Savages & asked them using signs for the route to Back’s Fish River. They fled in terror when Fitzjames produced a loud blast of flatulence. “Sorry, sir,” he said, “but starvation seems not to agree with me.”

June 10, 1847. Longboats abandoned owing to the terrestrial aspect of the land.

June 12, 1847. Dr. Goodsir, our surgeon, tried to enliven things by asking us which vegetable the Admirably forbade us to take on board the Erebus. Answer: Leeks! Only Goodsir himself laughed at this feeble joke, & as he did, several of his teeth loosened in his gums, then fell into the snow.

June 13, 1847. What a nuisance! I seem to have left my monogrammed cutlery & all my medals on the Erebus, so we had no choice but to march back to the ship, which was now a sorry sight — both the fore & aft decks were covered with a thick coat of scurvy.

June 14, 1847. A blizzard has kept us on the ship, so I began working on a talk to be given tomorrow at tea-time. Key sentences include: Eat your boots, men. They’re quite tasty. Give me a nice fresh boot over steak-and-kidney pie any day. [On an earlier expedition, Franklin had been compelled to eat his boots]

June 15, 1847. Hallo, what’s this? Fitzjames has barged into my cabin without a knock. “Sir John,” he says, brandishing his cutlass, “the men & I have made an important decision. The cabin boy is lean & emaciated, while you…”

Here the diary necessarily breaks off, but the percipient reader will have no trouble ascertaining why Franklin’s remains have never been found.

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