Aromatic Wheel of Fungi

by Willoughby Arevalo & Isabelle Kirouac

The  Aromatic Wheel of Fungi is a didactic, playful and immersive display where visitors can experience and interpret the diversity of smells found in mushrooms. The wide spectrum is organized into plant, chemical, bacterial, mineral, animal, fungal and associative/compound smells, which elicit curiosity, imagination, and memories. Get ready to experience olfactory delight, disgust and surprise!

This wheel is an experiential tool for supporting participants to recognize, identify, analyze, appreciate and discuss the wide range of aromas emitted by the diversity of macrofungi (mushrooms). Many mushroom lovers will habitually bring a mushroom to their nose (or vice versa) before taking a good look at it with their eyes. This demonstrates the usefulness of aroma to mushroom identification, but also the power that smell has to create associations, memories and a sense of familiarity.

We conceived and developed the wheel collaboratively with input from personal experience, mushroom field guides, and participants who have engaged with the wheel. Indeed, it is an ever-evolving catalogue of smells, and if you have experienced distinct mushroom smells not listed here, please let us know. Smell is interpreted in layers – personally, culturally and contextually, and this wheel continues to grow as more people and fungi interact with it in different contexts.

The first iteration of this wheel was created in 2018 as an art installation in residency at the Guapamacátaro Art & Ecology Center in P’urhépecha Territory/Michoacán, Mexico, where we drew the broad categories on a tablecloth. Rather than writing out each specific smell, we filled 44 small ceramic cups with the reminiscent substances, ranging from iodine to radishes to rubber bands, for participants to smell, optionally blindfolded. We have since made another cloth version, which you see replicated here.  We often share it through a playful activity, inviting participants to smell mushrooms, discuss their aromas, and place them on the wheel. We have facilitated this experience with participants on mushroom forays, in schools, in community art projects, and at mushroom festivals such as the New Moon Mycology Summit (Mohawk Territory/New York, 2019), and the Sunshine Coast Mushroom and Seaweed Festival (Shíshálh Territory/British Columbia, 2019).

Our wheel has now expanded to a large 20’x20′ immersive installtion that includes 300 smell descriptors and fresh mushrooms displayed on a matsutake sculpture. This installation has been presented as part of Burnaby Blooms Festival and the LUNA Arts Festival in Revelstoke (2023).

This work was also featured on the Future Ecologies Podcast’s Making Sense of Each Other episode

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