Why You Should Join a Mycological Society

Editor’s Note:

Mycological Society Dance Party
Sometimes, mycological societies descend into dance-party extravaganzas. Photo by Anna McHugh.

Well kids, it’s about high time to high tail it to the annual North American Mycological Association foray up Asheville way, and I must confess I’m stupid excited about it. In honor of the upcoming festivities, I figured I’d outline a few of the massive benefits of joining a mycological society or mushroom club, if you happen to have one in your region.

Yours In Fungal Fancy,

Mushroom Anna

Mycological Societies: The Good, The Weird, The Smart

Mycological societies are not the most common social/scientific organizations out there, and sadly, many communities do not have them. Never fear, however! If you live in a part of the U.S. that lacks a formal mycological society, you could always get motivated and create an informal Meetup or Facebook group to organize mushroom-related events, activities, and information-sharing.

If you’re lucky enough to live in a region where there’s a bona fide mycological society, there is no doubt that you should join up, even if (or especially if) you’re a novice and don’t know much about mushroom hunting, identification, or other mushroomy topics. Mycological societies, in my experience, bring together a group of interesting, weird-in-a-good-way people who are tremendously generous with their knowledge, and most of them don’t even get tired of hearing the novice mushroom hunter’s constant refrain (What is it? Can I eat it?).

Here are the top benefits of joining your friendly local mycological society.

Cortinarius erythraeus
Cortinarius erythraeus is one of those “more obscure” mushrooms you could learn about at a mycological society meeting. Photo by TimmiT. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Mycological Society Sponsored Mushroom Forays and Camps

Although I love going mushrooming with a few close friends and sometimes I like to even hide the fact that I’m mushroom hunting, very few things are as fun as annual or seasonal mushroom forays with a mycological society or mushroom club. The advantages of going to a mushroom foray are varied, not the least of which is the opportunity to meet a bunch of people who share your passion for mushrooms in a setting where you can jabber on about your interests totally unfettered by concerns that people will think you’re off your rocker.

As I’ve explained on this blog before, some people just don’t understand mycology and think that “mushroom people” are weird. Well, that’s largely true, and nowhere is this more on display than at a mycological society foray. You’re likely to meet some engineers, tech industry brainiacs, wily old coots who can take you through the 7 different species names of the shiitake mushroom (Lentinula edodes, at least for now), back-to-the landers who live off-grid, chefs, urban foragers, biochemists, organic farmers, a few writers, and numerous other fun fungus lovers of all sorts.

Not only are mycological society forays a great place to meet people you’d otherwise never have a chance to get to know, you’re likely to learn some stuff about mushrooms that you never even considered, even if you’re a diehard mycophile like me. Here is a brief list of things I’ve learned at mushroom camps over the years.

  • How to make fabric dyes with wild mushrooms
  • How to grow oyster mushrooms on recycled paper and Rice Krispies
  • The complete history of mushroom use in human civilization over thousands of years
  • How to treat Amanita mushroom poisoning
  • Medicinal mushroom tincturing, extraction, and preparation
  • Microscopy
  • Tissue culturing wild mushrooms for cultivation
  • Advanced mushroom taxonomy, taught by only the finest species splitters in the field
  • Kombucha preparation
  • Fermentation using wild yeast
  • Taking good mushroom photographs
  • Bioremediation using mushroom mycelium
  • Mushroom-related theatrical performances and art workshops
  • …and a lot of other classes I’m forgetting.

    Mushroom dyed yarn
    Yarns dyed with mushroom pigments. Mushroom dye-making is a folk art that’s largely ignored outside the mycophile community. Photo by Leslie Seaton. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

You see, most mycological societies put together forays that feature a blend of guided mushroom walks and educational programming, and most organizers take pains to offer a varied menu of cool subtopics within mycology that will keep you sharp and point your knowledge-nose toward new fields of inquiry.

Another thing I cannot stress enough: multi-day mushroom camps are great places to eat awesome food. Since mushroom camp doesn’t happen very often, most folks who attend stockpile great mushrooms for months in advance and love pulling out all the stops when it comes to sharing that amazing morel dish, that strange and delicious matsutake soup, or that homemade mushroom-infused beer that’s been bottle conditioning for the last couple months. Suffice it to say, mushroom camp is nothing like summer camp from a culinary perspective (at least not like my own summer camp experience, which featured the world’s worst tuna melts and pseudo-pizza).

Also, mycological society forays usually afford attendees the opportunity to forage in otherwise off-limits territory. Permission to hunt on private property is not always easy to obtain on an individual basis, but foray groups are often allowed to visit places that are not allowed under normal circumstances.

Finally, mushroom forays are a great opportunity to learn from the best minds in mycology and to see a lot of different mushroom species up close and personal, all carefully sorted and labeled. It takes a lot of hunting and identifying to learn new mushroom species, but when you team up with 200+ other people to assemble a great identification table, you can learn a load of new mushrooms that it might take you months or years to become acquainted with on your own.

Mycological Society Classes and Meetings

Mycological society microscope
Want to learn how to use a microscope? Join your local mushroom group. Photo by Hopgardener. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

In addition to the chance to attend forays and camps, mycological societies usually have monthly meetings and sometimes host classes, dinners, and other mushroom events to keep the community connected and active. Meetings are cool because they feature guest lecturers who will give you a shotgun-style dose of something really unique and new in the field of mycology.

One of my first mycological society meetings featured the comments of a phylogenetic researcher on the genus Cortinarius, which is an obscure enough topic that I might not have learned about it on my own. It’s also nice to be able to ask questions of a researcher, especially when it comes to difficult or nearly inscrutable topics.

Supporting Scholarships and Research

A lot of mycological societies work hand in hand with academics who are doing the good work that needs doing in the field. Some of them sponsor scholarships that help fund graduate students or research projects, and so joining a group is a good way to lend a helping hand to a field that is chronically underfunded in U.S. universities.

In addition, mycological societies often help power research and species collection efforts. For instance, when a mycologist needs a big collection of different specimens to sort out some taxonomical headache, mushroom group members are often the ones who document, dry, and send mushrooms off to the lab. It’s a lot of fun to be part of science in this way, even if you’re like me, an amateur who doesn’t operate under any delusions about having a mushroom named after me one day.


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