Danger of fungus art

We have always given our children the blank canvas of tree fungus. Now we have grandchildren, and last summer proudly brought out a new batch for the little ones to draw on. Our daughter-in-law was horrified and refused to allow anyone to touch the fungi because she thought they were dangerous. Is there any danger to children using these fungi? I would love to add to our collection.

—Maureen Edge, Ottawa, Ont.

Unless you count the usual arts-and-crafts mishaps (spilled paint on the sofa cushions!), and assuming you’re giving the young ’uns a child-friendly instrument to etch their designs into the soft flesh of the fungus—a toothpick and not, say, a scalpel—then no need to worry: There is no danger in collecting, handling, or manipulating Ganoderma applanatum, or Artist’s Conk.

“They’re absolutely safe,” says Jean-Marc Moncalvo, senior curator of mycology at the Royal Ontario Museum. The fungi may release spores when they’re fresh, but the spores are not harmful.

In fact, says Moncalvo, mushrooms in the genus Ganoderma—it has more than 80 species—have been used historically in Asian medicine. Recently, they’ve been studied for therapeutic benefits, including their antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-cancer properties.

Medina Genge, an artist with a studio in Middle Sackville, NS, has been painting on dried Artist’s Conk for years. “I’ve never had any problems,” she says, adding that because they only sprout on old or decaying hardwoods, you’re not likely to mix them up with any other types of fungus when you’re collecting them. “They grow on dead trees. So it’s pretty obvious.”