The Eclectic, Eccentric Nature of Mushrooms & the People Who Love Them

October 17, 2023 Andrew Wilson , Associate Curator of Mycology

Mushrooms are wondrous and curious organisms. They grow in bizarre ways and places, but this aspect of their nature draws people to them like artists to Burning Man or foodies to a Michelin-starred restaurant. One of the best ways to appreciate mushrooms is alongside the people who adore them, and I can think of no better place for this than the North American Mycological Association’s (NAMA) Annual Foray.

This year, the annual foray was in Hendersonville, North Carolina, located on the eastern side of the Appalachian Range near the Great Smoky Mountains. Every year the foray is held in a different part of the country and as the chair of NAMA’s Voucher Collections Project, I get to experience the diversity of that region with my vouchering team, up close and personal. This year we had a wide array of interesting mushrooms, and I got to choose the best collections that came in each day and highlight them for the foray attendees.

One of the easier choices was the enigmatic and alien Calostoma cinnabarinum. This fungus truly looks as if it came from outer space. Of course, I must admit to a personal bias as this fungus was a primary focus of my Ph.D. Another interesting fungus was a species of entomopathogenic (insect-eating) fungus called Isaria “Cordycepts” tenuipes. This was collected by a colleague of mine, Kathryn Bushley, who at the time of collecting was witnessing a beetle feeding on it. Fascinating behavior from an insect who may likely be the prey of this fungus. There was also an interesting truffle species in the genus Imaia. A graduate student from the University of Florida recognized this mushroom because we are familiar with it from Asia, but very little about it is known in North America. Events like the NAMA foray provide opportunities to learn more about fungi like this one.

The rich and wonderful diversity of people also make the foray special. The esteemed lead identifiers for the foray were the prolific pair Arleen and Alan Bessette. Together they have authored nearly a dozen guides to North American mushrooms. The artist Lex Thomas was immersed in the chaos and beauty of the sorting and display tables and produced some amazing watercolors capturing the potpourri of mushroom mayhem. For me, one of the best parts of the event is getting to work with a stellar group of graduate students and veteran VCP coordinators. A sweet topping to the event was being able to share birthdays with the long-time foray recorder, Adele Mehta.


Photos by Andy Wilson.


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