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CURATOR’S CORNER: Sooke’s identity strongly influenced by fungi

Marvellous Mushrooms exhibit on display at Sooke Region Museum until April 22
The agarikon conk on display at the Sooke Region Museum. A team of fungus and mushroom specialists identified it as a tree fungus after it was mistakenly identified as a rock. (Sooke Region Museum)

Emma Wilton | Contributed

Upon entering the Sooke Region Museum, you may be familiar with our cougar in the tree. Located below one of the lower shelves is another unusual item.

First, it was mistakenly labelled as a rock, but a team of fungus and mushroom specialists correctly identified it as a tree fungus.

The body of this fungus is approximately 12 years old, which is evident by the layers on the specimen, but it could be much older. If you were to cut into it, you could get the exact age. The fungus was donated in 1985, and since then, it has been on display in the museum’s Natural History display.

Whether you know it by its scientific name Laricifomes officinalis, common name “agarikon,” or not, this conk has some interesting information.

The agarikon, a conk, is a fungus in the group polypores. Often, conks feed on host trees’ heartwood and sapwood, which can render the wood unfit for commercial purposes. This fungus can grow on living or dead trees and is perennial; each season, they add a new fertile layer to the bottom of the conk.

Looking more closely at the agarikon, it tends to grow on conifers (trees that produce cones), dead or living, and stumps.

Agarikons are not edible and poisonous. Usually, they are found in southern B.C. and Haida Gwaii. These fungi have a long history of use as religious and medicinal mushrooms in Asia, Europe, and North America. Some Indigenous groups call it the “ghost bread” in British Columbia and the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

The conks were carved and used in shamanistic rites. If the conk is harvested properly, the medicinal properties have been traditionally used to treat asthma, cough, stomach and lung ailments.

Fungus and mushrooms play an important role in Sooke’s identity. Many people in the Sooke Region may be familiar with foraging for mushrooms, textile dyeing or their medicinal properties. Many local foragers also sell their mushrooms at the museum’s summer night market.

If you want to know more or get a closer look at some other fungi and mushroom varieties, the museum is hosting the Marvellous Mushrooms exhibit from the Royal B.C. Museum. It is in the upstairs gallery and will open until April 22. The museum will also host the workshop Foraging and Dyeing with Plants and Mushrooms: Blending Traditional Coast Salish Knowledge with Science on Feb.18.

If interested, please visit the Sooke Region Museum website for more information or contact programs manager Elizabeth Shaw at the museum.


Emma Wilton is the Sooke Region Museum’s collections and exhibits manager. Email

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