North American Mycological Association

NAMA Wildacres Regional Foray

The annual NAMA Wildacres Regional Foray is unique for several reasons, not the least of which is the awesome natural beauty of the area, including Mt. Mitchell, at 6,684 feet elevation, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. If you stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway in September, you find evidence of Fall’s arrival, including a huge diversity of mushrooms.

wildacres retreat

"A conference center dedicated to the betterment of human relations" © Photo by David Rust

NAMA’s Allein Stanley, who initiated this foray some 15 years ago, says that "limiting the number of participants means having an opportunity to get people into smaller woods than a larger group could manage," and that "participants can have a more personal connection." "To me, the Wildacres experience is unique," says Stanley. Not only can people go to the same locations to collect fungi year after year, there is lots of social time. A traditional wine and cheese feast on the lower deck each afternoon before dinner is very popular. And yes, Wildacres Retreat is a beautiful place to sit, watch, and listen. There is no television, cell phone reception is weak, and wi-fi in the lodge goes south with cloud cover and rain.

mushrooms along the parkway

Inonotus hispidus found along the Blue Ridge Parkway
© Photos by Nancy Byer

wax caps

Hygrocybe sp.

"Originally, we specified mycologists with some southern experience. Over the years, professional mycologists have included: Orson Miller, Greg Mueller, Dennis Desjardin, Coleman McCleneghan, Juan Mata, Brandon Matheny and Rytas Vilgalys, Bart Buyck, Patrick Leacock, and Walt Sundberg (who served many years as recorder). Additionally, we have had the support of a whole bunch of gifted mycologists like Jay Justice, Owen McConnell, David Rose, Donna Mitchell and Bill Roody, Susan Mitchell, Glenn Freeman, Glenn Boyd, and many others," adds Stanley.

NAMA regional forays are designed to provide an in-depth learning experience. Limited to 40 participants, folks come from up and down the East Coast to Wildacres to learn about local fungi in this unique habitat.

Jay Justice and Allein Stanley look over some mushrooms

Jay Justice and Allein Stanley look over some mushrooms.
© 2012. Photo by Jackie Schieb.

Some mycologists take a break. Todd Elliott on fiddle

Todd Elliott, Rytas Vilgalys, Jay Justice and Gregory Bonito "fiddle around"
between mushroom identifications. © 2012 Photo by Nancy Byer.

At the most recent foray in September, participants were able to interact with a large cohort of professional and amateur mycologists including Jay Justice, Brandon Matheny, Rytas Vilgalys, Noah Siegel, Debbie Viess, David Lewis and a number of notable students from the Vilgalys Lab at Duke University and the Matheny Lab at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Conditions were not ideal this year, but our group still gathered approximately 207 species. Click here to see the species list. Despite collecting for 15 years at the same location, approximately 20% of species found each year are new to the master list.

Calostoma ravenelii

Calostoma ravenelii. © 2012 Photo by Christine Braaten

table of incoming mushrooms

Marisol Sanchez-Garcia, Brian Looney, Joshua Birkeback, and Christine
Braaten from the Matheny Lab at UTK. © 2012 Photo by David Rust

Both Christine Braaten and Debbie Viess collected a gelatin-free Calostoma species, Calostoma ravenelii, with a scaly exterior, solid white interior and a red stoma just below the skin. Just below the lodge, I found a mysterious white gilled mushroom which immediately fell on the radar of UT graduate student Marisol Sanchez-Garcia. Debbie Viess brought in a collection of Multiclavula mucida, one of a relatively small number of mushroom-forming lichens, which can usually be found growing on a bed of green algae. A stunning collection of Omphalotus illudens glowed yellow orange on the table.

Hydnotrya cubispora

This odd ascomycete was identified by Debbie Viess, who
also put the spores on a microscope to confirm.

Hydnotrya cubispora spores

Hydnotrya cubispora spores. © Photos by Debbie Viess

Ursula Pohl, Alyssa Allen and Pat Olson put together a demonstration of mushroom dyes. Jackie Schieb, Peggy Horman, Judy Roberts, Carol Kanapka, and Nancy Byer cleaned the fungal bounty we collected and Ursula Pohl worked her magic in the kitchen transforming the wild mushrooms into marvelous samples for everyone to taste.

preparing the mushrooms for a feast

Peggy Horman, Judy Roberts, Ursula Pohl and Carol Kanapka display
their prep work. © Photo by Jackie Schieb

wine and cheese social on the back patio

Lounging on the patio with wine and cheese.
© Photo by David Rust

On Sunday morning, Brandon Matheny eschewed the normal "walk through" of mushrooms in favor of a more educational discussion of the evolution of fungi, using examples from the display tables.

Sunday wrap up

Dr. Brandon Matheny talks about the fungi. Facing camera: David Lewis, Jack Green, and David Rust. © Photo by Nancy Byer