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Washington Could Get an Official State Mushroom

A bill would enshrine American matsutake as one of a few fungal symbols in the U.S.

Matsutake (Tricholoma magnivelare)
Matsutake (Tricholoma magnivelare) USFWS Pacific Region/CC BY-SA 2.0

In Washington State, one legislator is trying to pay homage to the much-loved pine mushroom, also known as American matsutake, by elevating it to the status of Washington’s Official State Mushroom.

In a bill, Representative Laurie Dolan notes that the pine mushroom (scientific name: Tricholoma magnivelare) is “notably sought after for its distinct smell and delicious flavor” and plays an important role in the state’s ecosystem. The bill, first introduced last year, was re-upped in this new legislative session and passed through committee after some debate, Spokane Public Radio reports.

The committee also considered the merits of declaring morels or chanterelles the state’s official mushroom. One legislator, Representative Morgan Irwin, “asked if there would be a ‘cap’ on mushroom puns, but followed it quickly by asking if the bill has the support of the morel majority,” the Spokesman-Review reports.

While it’s common for states to name an official state bird or tree, some states have taken a much wider approach to naming symbols that define their identity. Maryland has two state sports—lacrosse and jousting. California has a state dinosaur and Connecticut has a state fossil. Some states have adopted an official state gun. But official state mushrooms are rare. In 1984, Minnesota became the first state to pick an official mushroom: the morel. In 1999, Oregon adopted the Pacific Golden Chanterelle as its fungal symbol. If Rep. Dolan’s bill passed, Washington would become the third U.S. state to have an official mushroom.

The idea for the bill came from students at Evergreen State College. Matsutake mushrooms can be hard to find, and in the fall, when they pop up Washington state forests, mushroom hunters comb the forests for them. They can be very valuable, too, and the locations of mushroom patches are often closely guarded.

As a symbol, though, matsutake are a strong choice. As Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing writes in The Mushroom at the End of the World, the high price people are willing to pay for these mushrooms “sometimes make matsutake the most valuable mushroom on earth.” Since they grow in disturbed forests, they exemplify “possibilities of coexistence within environmental disturbance. ” They’re a symbol of the modern economy, in which mushroom hunters make a precarious living.

That may be more baggage than one wants for a state symbol. But, for a mushroom, Tricholoma magnivelare has a lot to say.