Date: September 24-27, 2015

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So Much More than the Field Trips…

By Ellen Wan, Mushroom Club of Georgia

When you think about the 2015 NAMA Blue Ridge Foray, the first thing that comes to mind are the mushroom walks. Those hikes through the Appalachian forest, branches and twigs brushing your face, where no hill seemed too steep and no day too long, as you searched for that mother lode of maitake or the mythical Morris' bolete.

Inevitably, the walks also included celebrity sightings, which added a further sense of excitement. You might’ve found yourself down-trail, staring at the trees trying to distinguish tulip poplars from oaks, only to have Daniel Winkler rush by, camera in hand, yelling out the identity of every mushroom in the patch you’d inadvertently stepped into but had no idea was there. Or maybe you stumbled across a group deep in the forest, huddled around a tree stump and patiently waiting while Whitey Hitchcock played his harmonica as part of a mushroom “snake charming” ritual. And then you would find tTradd Cotter lying in the middle of the trail digging mushroom specimens out of the ground for culturing, and more than happy to point out all the edible plants in the area should you for some reason have to spend the night in the forest.

The field trips are certainly a defining feature of the NAMA foray. But it isn’t until you find yourself sitting around a campfire several weeks later, talking about the foray with like-minded mycophiles, and one of them asks if anybody heard the talk about a “mycological civilization,” that you start to realize the foray is so much more than the walks. Each year the NAMA foray schedule of events is packed with talks from amateur and professional mycologists on a wide variety of subjects, and this year was no exception. With an expanded schedule of over 27 presentations, given by the likes of Alan Bessette, Britt Bunyard, Tradd Cotter, Todd Elliott, Susan Hopkins, Jay Justice, Julia Kerrigan, Dan Lazar, Paul Stamets, Tom Volk, and Daniel Winkler, everyone should have been able to find some thing of interest. Want to know if you can eat that bolete or amanita? Check. Curious about a DNA barcoding project for mycoflora? Bring your scanner. Ever consider the different types of human fungal pathogens? Cover your eyes, some of these pictures will not be cute.

Several talks at this year’s NAMA foray had people buzzing. Todd Elliott kicked off the foray with “Adventures in the Fungal Ecosystem,” which started with an a cappella mushroom song, and then transitioned to a tour of his recent adventures through the Appalachian mountains of the United States, on a truffle farm in Australia, and across the forests of West Africa in his efforts to understand and document mushroom diversity throughout the world and the interaction of mushrooms with their surrounding ecosystems.

The next day, everyone was treated to a double-feature on the new horizons of mycology. In “Mushrooms for People and Plant: Ancient Allies for Modern Maladies,” Paul updated everyone on his research into the use of polypore extracts to treat cancer and protect against viruses that may be weaponized for bioterrorist activities. In addition, he described his research into the worldwide decline of honeybee colonies and explained how his work to identify the biochemical pathways of p-coumeric has led to the development of a mycelium-based “bee food” that has been found to increase honeybee lifespans, while simultaneously decreasing their viral load, and may be the key to saving the bees.

Later that day, Tradd took the stage for his vision of the future in “Mycotopia: Visions from a Mycologically Based Civilization.” Arguing that the world is missing a tremendous opportunity to capitalize on the many benefits of mushrooms and mycology, Tradd described what a world with mushrooms at its foundation would look like, including their use in farming, waste disposal, recycling, mycoremediation, clothing, and medicine.

On the last night of the foray, Alan Bessette presented “Mushrooms of the Southeastern U.S. - Excitement & Frustration.” With a beautiful collection of mushroom pictures, Alan had the audience murmuring excitedly as he showed off the wonderful mushroom diversity he finds in the Southeast, from Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp to a South Carolina rest stop.

Todd and Tradd closed the last day of the foray with a detailed look at insect cordyceps from around the world in “Insect Fungal Pathogens.” The audience was stunned by the pictures of cordyceps emerging from the heads and bodies of a variety of insects and had the opportunity to view and hold several specimens Todd and Tradd have found during their travels.

The foray also included many other memorable presentations. For aspiring mushroom photo-graphers, John Plischke III, in “Mushroom Photography: The Basics Plus,” provided an over-view of the equipment required, what settings to use (“make sure your camera is on ‘A’ and ‘F16,’ with the ISO at 200”), and recommendations for framing photographs to highlight the different features of a mushroom. Daniel Winkler, in “Colombia Mushroom Magic” escorted the audience through the mountains and villages of Colombia, giving them a sense of the mycoflora and cultural attitudes toward mushrooms (“they don’t eat chanterelles”). In an “Overview of Dyeing with Mushrooms,” Susan Hopkins told us which mushrooms are best for dyeing, how the final colors will vary with different chemicals, and what animal fibers worked best. And Tom Volk took it upon himself to scare the hell out of everyone by discussing human fungal infections in “The Fungi that Infect People.” In a talk filled with photos showing the results of several human fungal infections, Tom explained the difficulty treating fungal infections because of the close phylogenetic similarity between humans and fungi, described how fungal infections occur, and highlighted some of the more common fungal ailments (“dandruff is a fungal infection!”) and their treatment.

These presentations were but a small sample of the talks at the NAMA 2015 Foray, but they certainly highlight how the foray is so much more than its field trips. So as you prepare for next year’s NAMA foray in Virginia, be sure to grab your notebook and pen to record those fascinating tidbits from the presentation schedule.

Eating mushrooms is a major highlight for any foray-goer. Mycophagy sessions at forays
can expose you to different wild and cultivated edible mushrooms and preparations that
you might not have encountered before. It’s a fun time of eating, exploring, and socializing,
and the NAMA 2015 Foray did not fail in that regard. After a long day of hikes and talks, foray-goers eagerly lined up to sip on warm morel and curried lobster mushroom soups and nibble on hearty oyster, shiitake, and chicken (of the woods) hors d'oeuvres, distantly mindful that dinner was just one hour away.

This year, mycophagy was also joined by cooking demonstrations, which made for a dynamic social experience. Members from the hosting and nearby mushroom clubs of the Carolinas and Georgia showered folks with tasting stations of:

• Fried oysters with sriracha mayo
• Wild mushroom pate with crackers
• Savory mushroom pancakes
• Puffball chocolates (white minty chocolate and dark peppery chocolate)

Mycophagy: never to be missed, if you can help it!

And if you still had energy at the end of the day, there were the evening socials. It wasn't just the food, though that included local artisanal cheese, and home-baked goodies, nor just the wine and local beer. The best treats turned out to be the impromptu folk music jams led by Todd Elliott (fiddle), Rytas Vilgalys (accordion), and Steve Roberts (harmonium & guitar).

The verdict on NAMA 2015? It doesn't get better than this!

From Ellen Wan's articles in The Mycophile Nov-Dec 2015.


Armin Weise & Todd Elliott - D Winkler


Evening social - D.Winkler


Bondarzewia berkeleyi - J.Plischke


Marasmius line - D.Winkler


Chamonixia brevicolumna - W.Sturgeon


NAMA Student workers - D.Winkler


Cordyceps militaris - D.Winkler


Pseudocolus fusiformis - D.Winkler


Oribilia xanthostigma - J.Plischke