Updated 3 hours ago
On John Plischke’s laptop, a video feed from his microscope came into focus and showed round, floating spores, along with some tube-like structures and solid chunks of the giant orangish-black fungus from which he’d just cut the sample.
From shelves that were packed with mushroom books until they leaned, he pulled a guide with photos of the lumpy fungus and illustrations of its spores to compare to what the microscope showed him. A click on his computer took a picture of what he was seeing in case he had to send it to a hospital or lab for further consultation.
“It’s an Inonotus Hispidus … People use it to dye wool; it would make you slightly sick if you ate it,” Plischke said.
But Plischke is not a scientist in the field of mushrooms, at least not officially. The 48-year-old Greensburg man who maintains rental properties for his day job is strictly an amateur mycologist, albeit one recently recognized as one of the best in the country for the work he has done finding and photographing mushrooms, educating people about them and helping to identify them in suspected poisoning cases.
Plischke began learning about mushrooms on foraging trips around Hempfield with his father, grandfather and uncle when he was 6, learning to identify a handful of edible mushrooms they could pick and eat. His interest grew from there to include finding, identifying and photographing thousands of fungus species from around North America.
“A lot of people tell me they want to learn mushrooms to eat them; if they want to eat 10 types, they think all they have to learn is 10 types,” Pliscke said. “I tell them they have to learn 40 or 50 mushrooms because they have to learn the five lookalikes for each type of mushroom they want to eat so they don’t get poisoned.”
His interest led him to seek out other fungus hunters. When he found no local organizations, he started the Western Pennsylvania…