This is the fourth article in a 4-part series on the fungi of Hawai’i from a Pacific Northwest perspective. This article touches on the historical links between Hawai’i and the Pacific Northwest, the environmental history of Hawai’i, and briefly, hallucinogenic fungi.
Hawai’i’s link to the Pacific Northwest begins with the Western explorers of the 18th Century. On Captain James Cook’s third expedition in 1778, he and his crew became the first documented Europeans to visit the islands. That same year he would visit the coast of the Pacific Northwest, naming Cape Foulweather in Oregon before heading north and mapping the coastline between Nootka Sound and the Bering Straight. After being killed in Hawai’i the following year, one of Cook’s crewmembers, George Vancouver, would revisit the islands and Pacific Northwest on his own expedition from 1791-1795.
Unlike Cook who missed the Straight of Juan de Fuca, Vancouver entered and mapped the Puget Sound while giving Western names to the landmarks of the region: Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, and Puget Sound itself. Vancouver’s Scottish surgeon and naturalist, Archibald Menzies, described many species from the expedition, including Pseudotsuga menziesii, the iconic tree of the Pacific Northwest: Douglas fir.
Later, while on Hawai’i Island, Menzies became the first known European to summit Mauna Loa, an active volcano 13,679 ft. high. He described several species of plants, and his name graces the Hawaiian Vetch, Vicia menziesii, now a critically endangered plant and the first Hawaiian plant to be placed on the endangered species list.
It would be another 30 years before the next recorded ascent of Mauna Loa by a European, David Douglas. Another Scottish naturalist, Douglas described species from Hawai’i, and many more from the Pacific Northwest. His memorial on the island of Hawai’i (where he met an untimely death) is planted with Douglas fir trees (yes, I have checked. No, they are not producing chanterelles).
Vancouver’s return to Hawai’i with gifts of cattle in 1793 and 1794 had great implications for the Hawaiian environment. After forbidding their slaughter so they could reproduce, their population grew to enormous numbers, playing a large role in degrading native landscapes. Wild cattle remain to this day, along with goats, European pigs (introduced by Cook and later visitors), sheep, and other ungulates which have all had negative effects on native Hawaiian ecosystems.
Beyond the introduction of hoofed animals, the visitation and utilization of the Hawaiian Islands led to other environmental and societal consequences: population collapse, change in social structure, extensive logging of sandalwood for trade and other trees for firewood and fuel for the increasing number of whaling and trading ships visiting the islands. Later, extensive tracts of lands were cleared for ranching and sugar production; the sugar era in Hawai’i is now over and some of that land has been planted with Eucalyptus trees.
After Western contact, Hawaiians began work on commercial ships and found themselves traveling the world. Friday Harbor, Owyhee Lake and River, and possibly the Washington town of Kalama are named after Hawaiians who lived in the Northwest throughout the 19th Century.
So what’s the fungal connection? The exchange of people, goods, plants, and animals certainly increased the amount of fungi found in the islands; the most conspicuous fungi in Hawai’i, including most of its edibles and all its poisonous and hallucinogenic fungi are thought to come from outside the islands.
Beyond cultivated “magic” mushrooms, Hawai’i has 3-5 hallucinogenic species that all look very similar to the blue-staining Panaeolus cyanescens (=Copelandia cyanescens) and grow in pastures associated with dung. Anecdotally, most people are aware that hallucinogenic mushrooms grow in pastures and some seek them out. Amanita muscaria is also present, but is currently restricted to Kaua’i.
In the world of fungi there are always surprises, and I was lucky enough to be greeted by morels this spring and see some of the island’s interesting stinkhorns. Happy mushrooming and hope you enjoyed the series!
Jeff Stallman is a super picky PSMS member since 2009 and former Board Member. He has been exploring the fungi of Hawai’i since moving to the big island in 2014, and will be sharing his experiences with us. His series will be published the second Sunday of each month.
Allen, J. W. and M. D. Merlin. 1989. Copelandia and Other Psychoactive Fungi in Hawaii. Newsletter Hawaiian Society Botanical vol. 28(2):27-30.
Culliney, John L. Islands in a Far Sea: The Fate of Nature in Hawai’i. Honolulu: U of Hawai’i, 2006. Print.
Hemmes, Don E., and Dennis E. Desjardin. Mushrooms of Hawai’i: An Identification Guide. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2002. Print.
Hemmes, Don E., and Dennis E. Desjardin. “Stinkhorns of the Hawaiian Islands.” Fungi (Volume 2:3 Summer 2009): 8-10. Web
Ho, James G. Y. Untold Fragments of Hawaii’s History. Hawaii: Hawaiian Chinese Multicultural Museum & Archives, 2003. Print.
Nisbet, Jack. The Collector: David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest. Seattle, WA: Sasquatch, 2009. Print.
Nisbet, Jack. David Douglas: A Naturalist at Work: An Illustrated Exploration across Two Centuries in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle, WA: Sasquatch, 2012. Print.
Ziegler, Alan C. Hawaiian Natural History, Ecology, and Evolution. Honolulu: U of Hawai’i, 2002. Print.