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Mushrooms Abound at Troy Meadows Preserve

PARSIPPANY — Many of us only think of mushrooms and fungi in terms of pizza toppings, eaten during a marathon viewing of The Last of Us (featuring an apocalyptic cordyceps outbreak.) The truth is, mycology is a fascinating field, and the parks, forests, and even backyards near us provide a great opportunity to take up a new hobby and meet some fascinating people.

Naturalists Dorothy Smullen and Lyla Meader, both active with the New Jersey Mycological Association (NJMA), established this on a recent guided tour in Parsippany. The “Mushroom Walk” event, held at Wildlife Preserves’ Troy Meadows Preserve, offered a crash course in mycology and a field outing or “foray” for a dozen lucky visitors who pre-registered for this limited admission event.

A briefing before Mushroom Walk at Troy Meadows Photo Credit: Luca Fariello

Some of the species encountered at the most recent event included Hen of the Woods, Bleeding Mycena, and Turkey Tail.

As expected, this foray was more productive than last year’s outing in the same area, thanks to the higher levels of precipitation during summer 2023, in comparison with 2022’s drought conditions.

Dorothy Smullen, carrying her wicker basket, knife, and magnifying loupe, is a retired high school science teacher whose love of mycology is contagious. Smullen, who hails from Brooklyn [where she obtained her Masters in biology] is a sought-after speaker on many aspects of the natural world, including botany, insects, birds, and frogs, and – – of course – – fungi. She became interested in the field 50 years ago, after moving from the city to a home near the Passaic River where she was amazed to see so many mushrooms on the riverbank after a storm. Her science background made her curious to identify these organisms using what was then a newly published field guide. She confirmed the identification of her find by checking with a Rutgers professor and learned about the NJMA, joining in 1975. Among many other prestigious affiliations in the NJ natural world, Dorothy Smullen also serves as past President of the NJMA.

Bleeding Mycena (Mycena haematopus) at Troy Meadows Photo Credit: Dorothy Smullen

Lyla Meader, NJMA’s current Secretary, has been interested in the natural world since she began exploring the fields and creeks of Schenectady County, NY, as a child. She learned from her mother to forage seeds, grapes, and berries but mushrooms – – other than the giant puffballs – – were off-limits. Decades later, Meader happened to attend a mushroom walk led by Dorothy Smullen and was taken with the beauty and many uses of mushrooms. A chance encounter led Meader to discover and photograph an enormous “Hen of the Woods” on the base of a tree at her own home, and she was hooked. She took this as a sign to join the NJMA and has enjoyed finding and photographing mushrooms ever since, sharing her discoveries and interest with “anyone who will listen,” she says cheekily. Meader also finds herself drawn to the interesting, intelligent, and friendly people who attend meetings and forays. This Mushroom Walk event at Troy Meadows attracted a range of enthusiastic participants who ranged from budding naturalists to degreed scientists, all of whom were anxious to share and discuss the day’s discoveries.

Visitors search for mushrooms at Troy Meadows Photo Credit: Len Fariello

Wicker baskets are typically used for specimen collection during a mushroom foray, to prevent crushing and smothering the delicate fungus. The magnifying loupe, such as the ones Smullen and Meader carry, allows minuscule detail to be observed, such as the absence or presence of microscopic pores, for correct identification. When collecting mushrooms to ID, it can be helpful to view the entire structure including the point of connection to the bark or log where it is found, so the field knife (used carefully) may be helpful to free the specimen without damage.

The foray included a display of Smullen’s mushroom artifacts, including artwork, mushroom paper, and even a handbag made entirely of mushroom leather. Fungi have roles in the environment including the breakdown of organic material and as a food source for various animals, but their ability to facilitate communication between plant organisms is only recently becoming better understood, as symbiotic fungi create an underground network that allows some plants and trees to distribute resources and alert others to environmental threats.

To learn more about the New Jersey Mycological Association or to join as a member, visit their website at njmyco.org. To receive advance notice about events in Parsippany at Troy Meadows, visit wildlifepreserves.org and scroll down to Join Our Email List. Most Wildlife Preserve events are low-cost or free of charge, and many events are open to children. Troy Meadows is open to the public during daylight hours. For points of entry and visitor regulations visit wildlifepreserves.org.

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Press Release
Press Release
The above press release was submitted to Parsippany Focus. Focus policy is print the content verbatim as submitted.
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