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Missouri mushroom hunters are getting into the fungus craze

WILDWOOD — The mushroom hunters recently arrived at the Rockwoods Reservation with baskets in hand.

Trouser legs are tucked into socks to repel ticks. There is a buddy system in place to ensure no one strays too far from the 2-mile Trail Among the Trees.

The sought-after morels appeared unexpectedly early a few weeks earlier, the group leader warns, so there would likely be a shortage of them on this humid morning.

That doesn’t matter to Levi Staley of O’Fallon, Missouri.

“They’re all super cool to me,” says Staley, 24, who has three mushroom tattoos on his right arm.







Missouri Mycological Society hosts a mushroom foraging trip

Levi Stanley, 24, of O’Fallon, Missouri, cuts a deer mushroom from a tree trunk while foraging for mushrooms with the Missouri Mycological Society at the Rockwoods Reservation in St. Louis County on Saturday, April 27, 2024.


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The mushroom club that sponsored the Rockwoods outing, the Missouri Mycological Society, was founded in 1987. Since then, the club has grown from a few dozen members to more than 800 across the state, mirroring a phenomenon seen nationally. Gatherings that used to attract a few mushroom enthusiasts now have waiting lists. Pere Marquette State Park hosts a morel festival every April. A Mississippi River guiding company is promoting scavenger hunts and food adventures.

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“We’re in the middle of what we call a magic mushroom explosion,” said Mike Snyder, who lives in Phelps County, near Rolla.

For foodies, discovering an unusual mushroom specimen can spark culinary inventiveness. They enjoy a wellness halo: low in calories, lots of vitamins, minerals and fiber.

And greater awareness of the therapeutic potential of hallucinogenic mushrooms – although this is not a focus of the mycological society – hasn’t hurt either.

Snyder, 44, started mushrooming about 15 years ago as a way to turn forest outings with his young children into scavenger hunts. They collected mushrooms on their walks and researched them when they got home. An obsession took root.

For the first ten years, Snyder thought he was the only one in love with the spore spreaders. Five years ago he heard about the mycological society.

“I had found my people,” Snyder said.







Missouri Mycological Society hosts a mushroom foraging trip

Participants walk into the forest while hunting for mushrooms with the Missouri Mycological Society on Saturday, April 27, 2024, at the Rockwoods Reservation in St. Louis County.


Christine Tannous, postal dispatch


‘A huge frontier’

It wasn’t long before Snyder was being asked to speak at brewpubs, host podcast episodes, lecture at workshops and lead nature walks. His wife’s company, WildWise Botanicals, pivoted from selling herbal extracts and natural cosmetics to booking teaching assignments on mushroom cultivation, medicinal potential and ecological impact.

“It’s a huge frontier,” Snyder said.

Most of a mushroom’s life cycle takes place underground, where a net-like collection of filaments called mycelium forms. The cap-covered stems that pop out of the soil or bloom on the side of tree trunks are the fruits of the mycelium. Instead of seeds, mushrooms produce spores that float through the air like wisps of smoke. They land and germinate, eventually producing new mycelium.

Mushrooms—“the world’s greatest builders,” as Snyder calls them—are both hardy and ethereal. They capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil, break down animal and plant remains and provide a nutrient cycle.







Missouri Mycological Society hosts a mushroom foraging trip

Peggy Green cuts a deer mushroom out of the ground while searching for mushrooms with the Missouri Mycological Society at the Rockwoods Preserve in St. Louis County on Saturday, April 27, 2024.


Christine Tannous, postal dispatch


More than 14,000 species of mushroom-producing fungi have been officially identified, but experts believe this is likely only a fraction of the world total. About a hundred species cause the most cases of human poisoning. Others cause psychotropic effects.

All of them, consumable or not, have something to offer science, says Bruch Reed of the North American Mycological Association, or NAMA, of which the state organization is a member.

“Fungi are humbly big,” Reed said. “It is the kingdom of life that is least studied.”

NAMA’s citizen scientists are trying to change that. For more than a quarter century, the society has submitted a sample of every species unearthed during its annual outing to the Field Museum in Chicago.

Last year, 400 people gathered in North Carolina and discovered a record 502 species, bringing the Voucher Collection Project’s total to more than 4,000. The finder’s name is included in the museum’s listing.

“You can achieve a little bit of mycological immortality,” Reed said.

Boom or bust

Maxine Stone of St. Louis has been with the Missouri chapter almost since the beginning. Stone, who is retired, wrote an identification and recipe book, “Missouri’s Wild Mushrooms.”

Slow-moving searches that give way to the rush of discovery are not unlike bird watchers’ experiences, she said. They look for their hobby; she looks at hers.

“You go out into nature and see what you can find,” Stone said. “It is awesome.”

The mycological society organizes several outings per month, from spring to autumn, including a weekend event in July called ‘Sweat ‘n Chanterelles’.

Those gold funnels are a top prize for Rachael Lawson of St. Louis.







Missouri Mycological Society hosts a mushroom foraging trip

Maxine Stone, from left, Levi Stanley, Jake Krutzsch and Lucy Roth watch as Peggy Green inspects the soil while searching for mushrooms with the Missouri Mycological Society on Saturday, April 27, 2024, at the Rockwoods Reservation in St. Louis County.


Christine Tannous, postal dispatch


“Unfortunately, they only come out when it’s super hot and the fleas are bad,” says Lawson, 37.

The relationship between work and reward is unpredictable.

“Sometimes it’s a party. Other times you won’t find one,” said Dennis McMillan of Waterloo, co-leader of the Rockwoods Reservation outing.

McMillan, 78, became sucked into his obsession during his days as a machinist. During his lunch break he foraged for mushrooms, often pulling them from rotten railway ties.

His favorite find is known as the chicken of the woods, which sprouts in undulating layers, like coral. He likes to fry them in a lemon cream sauce with shallots.

But early on in this walk, McMillan spotted turkey tails – with a fan-shaped pattern similar to their namesake – hidden in the tree bark. They are not for eating, he said, but some people brew medicinal tea from them.

The group of twenty collectors has split into twos and threes as their premonitions weave them off the path. They peer into caves, explore grassy groves and scan the valleys.

Crestwood’s Joe Lennon shares his strategy with a newcomer: “Don’t try to look for them or you’ll see them.”







Missouri Mycological Society hosts a mushroom foraging trip

Joe Lennon, left, shows his son Jack Lennon, 5, something interesting he discovered while hunting for mushrooms with the Missouri Mycological Society on Saturday, April 27, 2024, at the Rockwoods Reservation in St. Louis County.


Christine Tannous, postal dispatch


The no-looking method leads Lennon, 37, and his sidekick, 5-year-old Jack, to about a dozen fungi, which Lennon — who forgot his basket at home — is cradling in a blue boonie hat.







At home with Maxine Stone

Maxine Stone is a mushroom expert and author of the book “Missouri’s Wild Mushrooms.” She hunts and gathers them, uses a dehydrator to dry them and stores them in jars. She rehydrates them when she is ready to cook and eat them.


Christine Tannous, postal dispatch


When everyone meets back up at the shelter a few hours later, the reward is revealed: a picnic table covered in all kinds of mushrooms. Some are reminiscent of shells; others, shrunken elephant ears or small parasols.

McMillan and his fellow co-leader, Peggy Green, leaf through guidebooks and compare sizes, shapes and markings. After a discussion, Green draws up a list of 17 different species to submit to the mycological society.

The hilly hike and humid air have hikers ready for a snack. Luckily, there are a few collectors primed and ready to share.

They set out glass jars labeled “Korean spice pheasant,” “cinnamon chicken” and “sriracha king oyster.”

Everyone digs into the mushroom jerky.







Missouri Mycological Society hosts a mushroom foraging trip

Peggy Green, left, and Maxine Stone, right, show off knives used to cut mushrooms before going mushroom hunting at the Rockwoods Reservation in St. Louis County with the Missouri Mycological Society on Saturday, April 27, 2024


Christine Tannous, postal dispatch








Missouri Mycological Society hosts a mushroom foraging trip

Liz Deighton, of Ballwin, right, walks through the woods while foraging for mushrooms with the Missouri Mycological Society on Saturday, April 27, 2024, at the Rockwoods Reservation in St. Louis County.


Christine Tannous, postal dispatch








Missouri Mycological Society hosts a mushroom foraging trip

Eric Weldon, 40, of Creve Coeur, cuts a false turkey tail mushroom from a tree trunk while searching for mushrooms with the Missouri Mycological Society on the Rockwoods Reservation in St. Louis County on Saturday, April 27, 2024.


Christine Tannous, postal dispatch