So, What Happens at a Foray?

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.

Don’t Eat the Mushrooms! A True Story

contributed by OMS Board Member Bryan Lewis

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!

Myco People are Interesting

submitted by Walt Sturgeon

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.

Mushroom Here and There, Now and Then

Contributed by OMS Board Member Pete Richards

My wife and I have a summer place in western Maine where we usually spend three weeks in July or August.  One of our favorite activities is going on mushroom hikes.  It is always interesting to see what we find there that is familiar because we see it here in Ohio, and what is different.  Some hikes reward us with a taste treat – usually chanterelles, or sometimes black trumpets.

This year we are not going to Maine because of COVID-19, and there are few mushrooms around here because of the extreme dryness.  This leaves me little to do as a mycophile except think about past finds, protect myself in the present, and speculate about the future.

There are good reasons to expect the mushrooms in our area of Maine to be similar to those here.  The climate is not drastically different, and many of the same trees occur in both places – oaks, maples, beeches.  Many of the same Russulas and Lactarius occur in both places; as do several of the Amanitas; the Sulfur Shelf Laetiporus sulphureus; and boletes like Old Man of the Woods Strobilomyces sp., several Suillus species, etc.

There are also important differences.  Oberlin, where I live, is notorious for its clay soils, which are underlain by sandstones and shales.  Our area of Maine is part of the older Appalachian Mountain range, an area of rocky not-quite mountains built of metamorphic and igneous rocks, often with a rather thin mantle of soil on top.  The area I know best, right around our cabin, is an island, a glacial sand deposit with fine old trees, mostly white and red pines and paper birches, species which are not common around my part of Ohio.  Not surprisingly, the mushrooms that I see there but not here are often ones that are associated with these trees and the rather acid soil they produce.  Polypores like Fomitopsis betulina, Fomes excavatus, and Phellinus gilvus, the strange bolete Meiorganum curtisii  and the fuzzy-stemmed agaricale Tapinella atromentosa are obligate saprobes or parasites of these trees.  Some other species I have seen in Maine but not in Ohio are Amanita frostiana, A. jacksonii, Cortinarius semisanguineus, Hypomyces lactifluorum, and Turbinellus floccosus.  Undoubtedly some of these occur some places in Ohio, but I was not looking in the right place at the right time.

Things are changing on our little island in Maine.  The forest canopy is dominated by the pines and birches, but they are gradually dying and are not replacing themselves.  The understory is mostly Red Maple, Red Oak, and  American Beech.  In 50 years, these will be the mature trees, and with the change of trees will come a change in the mushroom assemblage.  The island will be much more like Ohio, both in its trees and in its mushrooms.

Ohio is also changing, and with it the rest of the Midwest and beyond.  Old growth forests are rare and gradually being lost.  Most striking to me is the almost complete loss of major tree species, one after another, to attacks by insects and insect-borne pathogens imported from overseas.  First was the American Chestnut, felled by the Chestnut Blight (a fungus) introduced from East Asia in the first half of the 20th century.  It was followed by the American Elm, victim of the Dutch Elm Disease (also a fungus, carried by elm bark beetles) in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  The Emerald Ash Borer has decimated populations of our many native ash species.   Now we watch to see if hemlocks can survive the Hemlock Woolly Adelgids.  With the loss or drastic reduction of each of these trees, mushroom species that are associated with them are also lost or made rare, though some fortunately are associated with more than one host species.  Examples are the “yellow” morels and oyster mushrooms associated with elms; the Ash Bolete, Boletinellus meruloides; and Ganoderma tsugae, a polypore associated with hemlock.  I found no information about fungi associated with American Chestnut, though undoubtedly there were some.

Trees and their ecosystems have evolved for hundreds of millions of years, countless species have gone extinct, and their niches havce been re-occupied by other species.  But our intercontinental commerce and mobility and an insufficiently strong ecological ethic have increased the rate of extinctions far beyond what natural evolution can replace.  Unfortunately, the future seems destined to be characterized by reduced diversity of all forms of life.

I had not intended this to wind up with such a negative perspective, but there it is. We must appreciate the diversity of life that we have available to experience, and preserve it as well as we can.  Love your mushrooms!

Amanita frostiana
Amanita Jacksoni
Cortinarius semisanguinareus
Fomes excavatus
Fomitopsis betulina
Hypomyces lactifluorum
Meiorganum curtisii
Phellinus gilvus
Tapinella atromentosa
Turbinellus floccosus

June Shrooms

June has been unusually dry in many places, but Board Member Pete Richards managed to capture these lovelies this month.

Young Mycena leaiana emerging from a rotting log in Oberlin Arboretum
Ductifera pululahuana found at the Augusta-Anne Olson State Nature Preserve on the Vermilion River in Erie County
Sarcoscypha sp found at the Augusta-Anne Olson State Nature Preserve on the Vermilion River in Erie County

Springtime Stump Huntin’ in Ohio

contributed by OMS Board Member Bryan Lewis

Springtime stirs joy in the hearts of Ohio foragers. Every new patch of green and each new tree bud and flower quickens the pulse with anticipation of bounties of wild edibles to come: nettles, ramps, and–especially–morel mushrooms. And extra-especially, the yellow morel.

Morels are delicious, but I think the main source of passion and desire among foragers is their elusiveness. They have a relatively short and somewhat variable fruiting season. Morels have a way of surprising us by changing fruiting locations and sometimes growing in unexpected places, but they generally appear in specific habitats (often in association with elm and tulip trees, among others). That means seasoned mushroom hunters find special secret “morel spots” often in state parks and other public forests. The location of these “morel spots” are guarded like nuclear launch codes.

Morel hunting can sometimes seem like a competition. How many “spots” do you know, how often can you get out and check them, how many mushrooms can you collect? I’ve encountered many other foragers in woods with promising habitat. Usually they sheepishly try to act like they’re just hiking (as they walk slowly, slightly hunched over, staring at the ground).

That brings me to this spring, where I’ve been hearing stories of a bumper morel crop and seeing online photos of people with laundry baskets filled with yellow morels. But I’ve been unable to get out as much as usual in Ohio this spring. The first time I made it to my favorite spot (late April) I spent hours searching and found…nothing. That is, nothing morel-wise, but I saw many mushrooms (fawn mushrooms, collybias, inkys, pheasant’s backs, gallerina, many cup mushrooms) and found plenty of ramps and many beautiful spring flowers (trillium, blue bells, marsh marigold, and many more).

More recently I went out on a rainy, abnormally chilly day in May and found…a stump.

And then…another stump…and another…

Yikes! Too late! The mushroom hunters have cleaned these woods out. Jeez, someone has even cut off all the pheasant’s backs! Boy, the competition is intense this year. As I turn and head back, I try to think of the nice ramps and nettles I’m finding, and of looking forward to the much more interesting summer and fall mushroom seasons, imagining forests full of chanterelles. But at this moment, slightly damp and cold in the middle of the woods, those thoughts seem like shallow consolation. It sure would be nice to find a big yellow morel. It’s easy to get caught up in the treasure hunting mind-set.



And then, just before I get to my car, like a beacon in the forest, I see one. A slightly-past-its-prime-but-still-beautiful yellow morel! I look around carefully, but it’s just this one. Not even any nearby stumps. I briefly think about taking it home and cooking up this one mushroom in a kind of “essence of morel” omelette. But I re-consider and leave it. Let those spores spread a little longer. Who knows, hopefully, a less-experienced forager will find this very mushroom, maybe even their first morel! That nice thought, after all the wet, cold, bounty-less stump finding, helps me remember something that can be easy to forget in the spring. Foraging is not a competition. It’s a state of mind and a way of life.

What is a Bioblitz?

April 14, 2019 Bioblitz on the Wayne National Forest

              There will be a number of opportunities this year to participate in bioblitz activities with Ohio Mushroom Society.  Bioblitz is an effort to describe as many species as possible at a particular site.  The information generated from such efforts is valuable in many ways.  It allows property owners to compile a comprehensive list of species which can be helpful in protecting native species, managing invasive species, and planning land management strategies.  Participation in a bioblitz helps visitors to the land understand features of that environment, and allows them to contribute to scientific understanding of the ecology.  Often people that are knowledgeable in particular areas of science form teams that work together to find and identify as many species as they can.

In the case of our bioblitz activities this year we will foray for mushroom collection and identification as usual at the sites, and then contribute photographs and/or a list of species to the group hosting the bioblitz.

Opportunities to bioblitz this year will be June 14 at Towner’s Woods Park (private property), and June 9, July 13, August 25, September 15, October 13, and November 3 at the Athens district of the Wayne National Forest.   Please see the Events page, and contact event leaders for details and to RSVP.

Our first biolblitz of the year attracted over 20 people, and we were able to name or photograph 24 fungal species.  We visited a beautiful site at the Wayne National Forest and saw many spring wildflowers, a big box turtle, and lots of birds and insects as well as taking home some mushrooms for dinner.  For our second biolblitz, at a different site on the Wayne, 11 people helped to collect and identify 25 fungal species.  Our forays were part of a two year effort to document as many species as possible on the Wayne.  On both days we had wonderful spring weather, explored new territory, and met new friends on our hikes.

So why not get out in the woods try some bioblitzes this year?  This is your chance to contribute to the greater good, meet some kindred spirits, and learn about fungi while practicing our favorite pastime- mushroom hunting!

May 19, 2019 Bioblitz on the Wayne National Forest

– Martha Bishop