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Video: Tribe artificially increases wishi population

 Mark Dunham, a
         Cherokee Nation Natural Resources specialist, drills a hole in the base of a
         tree to place a plug filled with grifola frondosa spores to grow wishi
         mushrooms while Natural Resources Acting Director Pat Gwin marks the tree’s
         location using a GPS device. (Photo by Will Chavez)
Mark Dunham, a Cherokee Nation Natural Resources specialist, drills a hole in the base of a tree to place a plug filled with grifola frondosa spores to grow wishi mushrooms while Natural Resources Acting Director Pat Gwin marks the tree’s location using a GPS device. (Photo by Will Chavez)
By Will Chavez Staff Writer KANSAS, Okla. – In a wooded area on Cherokee Nation trust land, two men from the tribe’s Natural Resources department give Mother Nature some help with growing wishi (or wissy) mushrooms. The maitake mushroom, also known as grifola frondosa, is considered a delicacy by many Cherokee people who find them growing near the base of hardwood trees. Also known as the “Hen of the Woods,” the large mushrooms have brown caps and white undersides and usually grow in clusters at the base of red oak trees in northeastern Oklahoma. Natural Resources Acting Director Pat Gwin and Natural Resources specialist Mark Dunham spent time in September drilling small holes at the base of trees, where roots connect, and placing plugs containing grifola frondosa in the hole before sealing them with wax. Gwin said wishi is a fungus that grows in the roots of trees. In northeastern Oklahoma, it mainly grows in red oak trees. As an experiment, Gwin and Dunham placed capsules in various trees, including chinquapin oak, green ash, post oak, hickory, white hickory, black walnut, sugar maple, elm and ash. “Because it’s so difficult to find these things (mushrooms), we basically wanted to see if we could artificially increase the population,” Gwin said. The tribe bought 300 plugs containing grifola frondosa from a company in the state of Washington. The plugs needed to be placed in the trees during a period of high moisture that’s not followed by hot weather and a month before the first frost, Gwin said, which usually occurs in northeastern Oklahoma in early to mid-November. The conditions in September were ideal because the area received heavy rainfall. Six different sites in Adair, Cherokee and Delaware counties were chosen for the wishi mushroom experiment because those counties have a large population of mature red oak trees.
 Grifola
frondosa also known to Cherokee people as wishi (Courtesy photo)
Grifola frondosa also known to Cherokee people as wishi (Courtesy photo)
Gwin said he expects the capsules to produce wishi in two to three years and that he used a global positioning system or GPS to mark each location where the capsules were left. He said he and his staff plan to visit the locations to check on the plugs’ progress. “The fungus will become mature. It will send out its reproductive part, the great big wishi, and then it can be harvested. The actual wishi that people pick, that’s just the flower of the plan,” he said. “It’s really the third year when we’re looking to find something.” He said wishi mushrooms clusters can grow large enough to fill a four-gallon washtub. The proper way to pick it is to cut it off its base and not pull it off. To prepare it for eating, he said, it should be boiled two or three times to remove the bugs and dirt. After that it is cut up, salted and floured and deep-fried.
“Several years ago a number of elders had wishi trees, and with wishi trees the locations are kept secret and passed down to their family. I was lucky to have a few trees passed down to me. A lot of those trees have died,” he said. “Several years of drought have wreaked havoc on the wishi population. What we’re really trying is get those numbers back up.”
 
Reach Staff Writer Will Chavez at (918) 207-3961 or will-chavez@cherokee.org
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