contributed by OMS Board Chair Debra Shankland
We at the Ohio Mushroom Society are excited to once again offer in-person forays for our members. These field experiences are fantastic opportunities to learn more about identifying mushrooms! Some of you may not have been to a mushroom foray before, so here’s what to expect at an OMS-sponsored foray.
First, register with the foray Host (this step is very important!). Once you’ve done this, you’ll receive an email confirmation detailing the location and where to meet for the event. The confirmation should have an attachment of the OMS waiver form. The waiver is for everyone’s protection, and a waiver must be completed for every foray you attend, since they’re only valid for the date specified. To save time, we ask everyone to complete the waiver at home and bring the signed copy with you.
Forays are open and free to all OMS members; your membership will be verified by the Host prior to the foray. If you were a member in 2020, your membership will automatically be extended thru 2021. If you’re not a current member, you can join OMS on the spot–just complete a membership form and bring $15 in cash or check for a family membership. You can download a form from the OMS website under the Join tab. The foray Host should also have some copies.
Some forays will take place in areas with spotty cell phone service, so it’s a good idea to check the route and perhaps print a map before you leave home. Depending on how ‘out-of-the-way’ a foray location is, there may be an “OMS Foray” directional sign or two to help you locate the meeting spot. Look for the Host, dressed in field gear, loitering near their car at the meeting spot. They’ll greet you, ask you for your paperwork and check your name off the list.
To be prepared for a foray, one should be adequately dressed for the conditions in the woods, and packing drinking water, a whistle or other signaling device, a phone (in case cell service is good), a basket and a knife. Other helpful items to have include smaller, rigid containers for tiny or fragile mushrooms, a notepad, field guide, and magnifying glass. This year, we also ask that everyone wear a face mask covering the mouth and nose. Everyone’s safety is a top concern!
With everyone and their gear and paperwork present and accounted for, your Host can facilitate introductions. You can expect an explanation of the best ways to harvest mushrooms for identification purposes. You’ll also get tips on safety, ways to handle mushrooms to keep them in good condition, and minimizing the group’s impact on the environment. Your Host will orient you to the habitat types and trail conditions at that location, and let you know where and when to meet with the collected specimens for ID.
The group will be asked to separate into smaller sub-groups of 2 – 6 people to ensure as wide a search as possible for specimens. Smaller, widely-spaced groups are not only safer during this pandemic, but it also prevents compaction of forest soils and damage to vegetation. In a few locations, participants may be asked to stay on trails. The only downside to separated groups is that some species may be over-represented, since one group may not know that another group has already collected a turkey tail, for example.
Usually, the woodland search occurs over 1.5 – 2 hours. When the groups gather together once again, identification and examination of the collected specimens takes place, usually over the course of an hour, depending on how many species are collected. The mushrooms are placed on individual paper plates on which their names (scientific and sometimes also common names) are written. This makes for a great photo composition, where the caption is already written! This is when you can learn the details that help you discern one species from a look-alike, ask questions, and discover more about seasonality and habitat preferences of different mushrooms.
The paper plates are collected at the conclusion of the foray, and the species names are recorded for the benefit of the landowner and our own understanding of which mushrooms occur where and when. At some forays, some mushrooms, along with their habitat details, are collected and prepared as voucher specimens, to scientifically document their occurrence at a particular site. Usually this happens at major, two-day forays, which also include guest speakers.
In short, a mushroom foray is not at all like the dictionary definition of a foray: a sudden raid or military advance, to take plunder. The goal is rather to learn more about mushrooms and enjoy a day in the woods, while leaving no trace of our presence. There may be forays where modest harvest of plentiful species are allowed, but this isn’t always the case. Places to gather for mushroom forays are few, and you can bet that more places will be closed to us if they’re ransacked.
I hope this helps to get you excited about this year’s forays! OMS board volunteers are working hard now to secure foray locations and work out logistics so that these events can be conducted safely. Look for the foray schedule under the Events tab, or in upcoming Mushroom Log issues.