Field Trip To A Fungi Foray

What happens at the Northeast Mycological Federation Foray? "Mushrooms only," according to attendee Gary Lincoff, an instructor at the New York Botanical Garden and author of The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms. Science Friday stopped by the conference for mushroom talk, mushroom crafts, mushroom eats and a mushroom hunt.

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IRA FLATOW, HOST:

Flora Lichtman is here with our Video Pick of the Week. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY this week, Flora.

FLORA LICHTMAN, BYLINE: Thank you.

FLATOW: It's a good one as usual.

LICHTMAN: Yeah. This week, we're taking on an important topic that I think just doesn't get enough play with that mainstream media: (Unintelligible) mushrooms. We've got a mushroom blowout this week, Ira.

FLATOW: Again?

(LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: Our listeners need to be up to date on the latest fungi news. You know that.

FLATOW: I do and I appreciate because we've done our share, haven't we?

(LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: Yeah. We've certainly have.

FLATOW: But in - but it's always interesting.

LICHTMAN: It's really interesting stuff.

FLATOW: Yeah.

LICHTMAN: OK. So this week, we have a mushroom blowout. It's actually a double feature, one also produced by Annette Heist, our science arts producer. And basically, it's a field trip to the Northeast Mycological Federation Foray. What the heck is that? Basically, it's a convention for mushrooms and the people that love them.

GARY LINCOFF: This is mushrooms only. A major thing will happen in the world and we never hear about it until this is over.

LICHTMAN: That was mushroom superstar Gary Lincoff. So this is - he works at the New York Botanical Garden and is also the author of "Audubon's Field Guide to North American Mushrooms," and he's one of the people at the conference.

FLATOW: This is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR.

LICHTMAN: I'm Flora Lichtman.

FLATOW: I'm Ira Flatow here talking about mushrooms again.

(LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: Again.

FLATOW: We love it. But these are mushroom?

LICHTMAN: So we get - we have mushroom legends like Lincoff, and then we have expert hobbyists, who are sort of legends in their own right, like Walt Sturgeon was one of the guys we talked to. And basically, what happens at these conventions is that you go to mushroom lectures, you talk mushrooms, you eat mushrooms, you make mushroom crafts. And that's what one of our video is about if you're wondering.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

LICHTMAN: You got to check that out. And most of all, you hunt mushrooms. And so what happens is a lot of people go out. There are hundreds of participants. And they bring back as many mushrooms as they can find in their - with - using their gear. So everyone has a picnic basket. And then they converge on this hole and the mushrooms are sorted, identified, and then you can absorb them and sort of figure out, you know, where they were found and their attributes.

FLATOW: Right. Right. And I was surprised. Looking at the video - it's our Video Pick of the Week. It's up there on our website. That they - how many they could find. Did they set the convention in a spot where they're going to find mushrooms? It just happens that these are the experts in the world...

LICHTMAN: Yeah. They know what to look for and where to look.

FLATOW: They came back with a new species, right?

LICHTMAN: They come - they said, every year, they seemed to find species that at least no one there can identify, and then they ship them off to experts all over the world. It's amazing. I mean, they said also, you know, this has been going on for decades. And people who go to these have been going for decades. And each year, they find different things because if it's a wet year, you may see a different species than you would in a dry year. And so that's part of the fun is, you know, who's finding what.

We had one guy in the bus who had an enormous chicken of the woods mushroom, and everyone was eyeing his basket, I think, enviously. It was really like the find of the day.

(LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: And also in the video, you show us where the odds are, what kind of trees you should be around, right, to find...

LICHTMAN: Yeah. This is one of the really interesting scientific tidbits I learned more about at this conference. So mushrooms have this underground vegetative part, the mycelium, and this mycelium hooks up with the roots of trees. In fact, a lot of trees have these relationships with mushrooms. And the mycelium gives the tree water and nutrients, and then the mushrooms get starch or sugars from the tree in return.

But it turns out there are certain relationships for certain mushrooms. So, for example, we heard from Glen Boyd, the organizer of the foray, and he said that, you know, if you're looking for porcini, check out spruce trees, that's a good spot to look. Or chanterelles are often on steep slopes near beech trees. So that was news I could use because I have a real hard time (unintelligible) anything.

FLATOW: So maybe they could just bend down in the video, then, oh, look. Here's a mushroom.

LICHTMAN: With the scientific names too. I mean, you know, it just - it blew my mind. Everyone there, you know, amateurs or people who do this professionally, just had a vast, vast amount of knowledge and the gear too.

FLATOW: What do you call - is there a scientific name for a mushroom hunter or a mushroom...

LICHTMAN: I think mycologist is the...

FLATOW: Mycologist is - yeah.

LICHTMAN: I don't know the hunter.

FLATOW: Hmm.

LICHTMAN: Hmm. Fungi forager?

FLATOW: Very Benji-sounding(ph).

LICHTMAN: Yes. This is a Benji question.

FLATOW: Yes.

LICHTMAN: By the way, thank you to our listeners for answering our bat question last week, too, what a bat name is. I can't pronounce it.

(LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: You can look at our website for that.

FLATOW: Also, let's remind everybody next week about the book club, right?

LICHTMAN: That's right. SCIENCE FRIDAY book club meets next week. Has everyone gotten their reading done? I have (unintelligible) more.

FLATOW: I'm about half way through. It's "Flatland," right?

LICHTMAN: "Flatland," yes, by Edwin Abbott. Get your copy.

FLATOW: It's just...

LICHTMAN: You can get it online, too, I think for free.

FLATOW: Yeah. You get it for free. It's a short book. It's, you know, the Gutenberg Project will give you a copy. Thank you, Flora.

LICHTMAN: Thanks, Ira.

FLATOW: That's our Video Pick of the Week. It's the mushroom convention. It's Flora Lichtman, our multimedia editor, going out there and hunting for those mushrooms. And it's quite a lot of fun and educational to see the video. That's about all the time for this hour.

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