Like so many, I came to mushrooms by foraging – specifically, for morels. Morels are delicious and relatively easy to safely identify for beginners. After some years of that (years!) I graduated to the also delicious and spectacularly more abundant chanterelle. And then I was hooked, drawn into the world of fungi.
Something about fungi is infectious; once you learn a little bit about identifying this or that you want to learn more and more. Shortly after just eating mushrooms, you start to notice how colorful and strangely beautiful they are, then you’re stupefied by their importance to ecology, their weirdness, and so on and on. Very quickly you encounter and start hanging out with others in the equally colorful, weird and amazing mushroom subculture. From professors to photographers to psychonauts – not to mention gourmands – the mushroom people are quite a wild group. This happened to me, and like a node in a mycelial network, I quickly relayed knowledge I learned from my new mushroom friends back to others whenever I happened to be out on a hike or in nature…
A few years ago I worked at an office kind of job in Boston. When there I was usually cooped up inside working a lot. I took any spare moment I could to escape out into woods and explore, sometimes with co-workers. Of course, on those walks I would find many mushrooms and regale my friends with stories I learned from Walt Sturgeon, Gary Lincoff and others. Perhaps my friends thought I was a bit out-there, but I think that they appreciated my passion and enjoyed the stories and information. Because I forage, they also saw me occasionally pick edible mushrooms.
I keep in touch with many friends from that job. One, in particular, occasionally sent me a photo, usually of a marasmius oreades or some such fungus just prior to being mowed over. Once he found a morel (especially rare in Boston!). But generally speaking, nothing all that interesting. And then, more recently, one day late in the fall I got a text from him with this photo and this exact message:
“Local harvest. Safe to eat?”
YIKES! Now, even the most greenhorn mushroom forager knows that a cutting board in a kitchen is NOT THE BEST PLACE TO IDENTIFY A MUSHROOM. From a photo. In a text. On a phone.
As soon as I saw the text I tried to call my friend to discourage this crazy, irresponsible foraging behavior, but no answer! Judging from the season and the photo – cap appearance, thick flesh, overall shape – I figured these were *probably* late-fall oyster mushrooms. But still! Did my over-enthusiasm for mushroom foraging lead my friend to this fate? And, just what fate would that be? Distressed, I sent detailed texts of possible similar mushrooms (oysters , lentinellus, etc.) and also scarier but less-likely possibilities, and obvious questions asking where, exactly, were these mushrooms growing, do they have a particular odor or taste, and so on. But each text began the same way: Don’t eat the mushrooms!
Finally later that evening, he called back and said he picked them with another friend, apparently a local mushroom forager, who identified and helped to prepare them. And after all, no one got sick, but the meal was only so-so. I could’ve told them that late fall oysters aren’t the greatest-tasting shrooms and saved them the trouble. Now, I’ve learned something. When wandering in the woods with friends not yet indoctrinated into the mushroom culture, I say don’t eat any mushrooms! Or plants for that matter. It’s a good strategy for at least two reasons: peace of mind, and more for me!
Here’s some good news for the New Year: this years’ membership is free! If you were a current member in good standing in 2020, your membership will automatically be renewed for 2021 without the need to write a check. Folks wishing to join OMS for the first time this year will need to pay at the normal levels, but with no increase in dues (starting at $15 for an electronic family membership).
Also, remember that OMS membership gives you a $5 discount on North American Mycological Association (NAMA) membership dues. Dues for both OMS and NAMA are due in January. See https://namyco.org/join.php for more information.
If you’re looking for more good news, look to the woods! Time in nature is calming, therapeutic, and time well spent. Even a walk around your neighborhood is a healthy tonic. You never know what happy surprises await you in unexpected places…
About a month ago I discovered a large colony of a short-stemmed gilled mushroom in the mulch under some planted evergreens in a yard. Though I still haven’t identified it yet, I’m using it as an opportunity to practice my identification skills before the “real” field season begins.
We’re all anxious to get out there for group discovery and learning again. Your volunteer board members are, too! We plan most of our mini, and biannual major forays, at an annual February meeting, this year on Zoom of course. We hope to put together a calendar of activities covering at least the first half of the year, subject to change as always. Calendar listings will be found here under the Events tab and in the March-April edition of the Mushroom Log.
Until then, be well, seek good news, and discover the nature near you!
If you are a current member of the North American Mycological Association (NAMA), please consider applying for their Membership Director vacancy. Like most club administration positions, it’s unpaid, but not without some great perks! The successful candidate will learn a lot while serving with other volunteers across North America. For more details, please see the announcement below.
NAMA is seeking a Membership Director to work with our webmaster and treasurer to welcome new members and support our renewing members—whether individuals or affiliated clubs.
Familiarity with data entry forms, reports, spreadsheets, and customer relations are crucial skills in this position. Training will be provided. You’ll need to regularly respond to membership questions and dedicate time at vital points in the NAMA year: membership renewal January through March and when foray registration opens. You’ll prepare a membership report at the beginning of our fiscal year. Occasional membership drives will give you opportunities to get creative.
The Membership Director also serves as an ex-officio member of the NAMA executive committee. As a result, you and your club would have a voice in many of our significant decisions such as foray locations, speaker invitations, and so forth.
You’d also be building a group of mycological and professional mentors as you exercise your leadership, communication, and database skills.
The Membership Director receives a registration fee waiver to attend the annual foray.
Explore the wondrous world of fungi! Join Harvard students for a closer look at the mushrooms, yeasts, and molds found in gardens, forests, labs—even in our own refrigerators. This popular annual event turns virtual this year, featuring videos created by Harvard students. Join the webinar to participate in live conversation in response to student projects. Be prepared to see fungi in a whole new way!
Having been a member of the Ohio Mushroom Society for 45+ years I have encountered some remarkable folks. Here are some examples.
There was the dousing lady. She had a medallion on a string and was testing mushrooms on the foray display tables. If the medallion swayed, she considered the mushroom was good for her. Fortunately, she was not eating them based on this determination!
Then there was a barefoot young man who announced after he got in a carpool, that there might be an odor as he seldom showered. Some months later he was looking for OMS references after being arrested for possession of a controlled substance in Montana.
One of my favorite people stories was a phone call. I did not know the man. He was interested in finding Gymnopilus spectabilis, a hallucinogenic species. He wanted to join me in observing it in the woods. I told him that I knew a couple logs where I had found it in the past and that I could contact him if I saw it again. Then he said he wanted to collect it under the light of the full moon! Don’t call me, I’ll call you. This man later became a prominent Amanita muscaria afficionado at the Telluride Mushroom Festival.
I have met two savant boys. One questioned me about a Cordyceps species. It soon became apparent to me that he knew as much or more about Cordyceps than me. As an adult mycologist he has written a book and travels extensively studying fungi. The other would be in the front row when I was giving a talk around the display tables. His questions were hardly that of a child and his interest was intense. A couple years later he is giving mushroom slide programs to adult audiences.
My first mushroom program was at Mill Creek Park in Youngstown. I brought an Amanita muscaria as an example of a common poisonous mushroom. I probably exaggerated its toxicity a bit. One man in the audience stepped up and in front of the crowd and took a bite of the cap. So much for my credibility. I doubt that he ate enough to poison him, but it was a learning experience for me. The next day a woman went to the park office with a bag of Amanita muscaria. She had washed the warts off the all the caps, and wanted to confirm that this was the mushroom I showed as a good edible. So much for stressing how toxic it is. Some people hear what they want to hear. Most mushroom hunters are good people and overall are an interesting group. I have made many good friends in mycological circles. As in any pursuit, it takes all kinds.
This should have been our Mushroom of the Month post for October but I’ve “FALL-en” behind, whoops! In any case, enjoy these polypores dressed in their autumn finest, as captured by Pete Richards. We think they’re Ischnoderma resinosa, but feel free to chime in in the comments if you have other ideas.
Look for an entertaining blog post from Walt Sturgeon next week!
If you’re starting to turn your attention from outdoor mushroom hunting to things you can do with fungi indoors, here’s a great online learning opportunity!
On November 9 at 7:30 PM (EST), Jeremy Umansky of the Ohio Mushroom Society will tell us about koji, a fascinating filamentous fungus (Aspergillus oryzae), that adds umami to just about any food. Best of all, Jeremy will show us how to make it at home. Wait until you see how beautiful it is!
Jeremy is co-author, with Rich Shih, of Koji Alchemy: Rediscovering the Magic of Mold-Based Fermentation (Chelsea Green,2020). He is also a James Beard Award-nominated chef and chef/owner of Larder: A Curated Delicatessen & Bakery in Cleveland, Ohio.
This event is for NAMA (North American Mycological Association) members only, so if you haven’t joined yet, now’s a good opportunity to do so. As an OMS member, you can get a $5 discount on your membership.
Mount Pisgah Arboretum, located in Eugene Oregon, is hosting a virtual foray this Sunday October 25th. There will be 8 hours of mushroom-centric programming streamed to viewers, including presentations from leading experts in the field of mycology, mushroom cooking demos, mushroom forays, live Q&A with experts, music, an iNaturalist Mycoblitz, and so much more ~ all for free!
Mount Pisgah Arboretum’s Mushroom Festival has decades of tradition and has evolved over the years to bring family fun and education in creative and innovative ways to our local community. This year, we are excited to bring our first-ever virtual version of our mushroom festival to our local community and beyond.
What: Mount Pisgah Arboretum with Cascade Mycological Society and Lane Community College present the 2020 Virtual Mushroom Show! When: Sunday, October 25th, from 10 am to 6 pm PST (that’s 1 pm to 9 pm EST) Where: Check out all streaming locations on our website at www.mountpisgaharboretum.org/virtual-mushroom-festival/