last rev. September 2004 -- Main Menu -- Writings --

An article by Dianna Smith designed to re-enthuse COMA club members, reprinted by permission from "Spores Illustrated", Fall 2004

Do you yearn to astonish family, friends and co-workers with your knowledge of carnivorous mushrooms and bioluminescent fungi?
Well, now you can!

Open Enrollment Is Currently in Progress to
COMA’s non-degree weekend fungus and slime discovery walks for peripatetic life-long learners/teachers!

As we all know, the acquisition of knowledge and understanding is not limited to what we may study in high school, college or university.  Learning can and does take place anywhere and for anyone, whether or not he/she has a degree.  At M.U. our campus is wherever we have a scheduled walk.  Participation, while voluntary, is encouraged. Students are teachers and teachers are students.  We ascribe to a philosophy of learning that fosters questioning: (“Is It Edible?”); research (“What does the Lincoff Bible say?”); and discussion: (“Hmm, I don’t know what it is.” “Of course you do. Look closely. Clearly that is an LBM!”).

Unique in the world of learning non-institutions, at COMA’s weekend MUSHROOM UNIVERSITY walks, knowledge can be acquired, shared, discussed, and questioned on an audit-only basis. No paper certificates or degrees are conferred, because there is no end to learning. Nor is there any pressure to learn the names of every mushroom we encounter. Rather enrollees are encouraged to design their own program of study with the aim of sharing information with others, particularly with those who know less than they do about fungi.  For example, pick a genus – say Cortinarius, and learn the characteristics of that genus. In the field try to find mushrooms that belong to that genus. If you want to delve deeper into the mysteries of the genus, you might sort various species of the genus into easily identifiable groups based on whether they grow under deciduous or coniferous trees, or whether they have dry or shiny or slippery caps, and so on.  Or you may choose to move on to learning the characteristics of another genus.  In any case, once you have mastered the characteristics of one genus, you already know more than 99.99999% of the people in the world about the subject and deserve M.U. credit for earning the experience of a paperless DEGREE of satisfaction!
Who is eligible for acceptance to MU?  If you are a COMA member you are already part of a self-selected exclusively inclusive group.  You are also eligible to invite guests to join us on our educational walks.  Everybody is welcome.  Current members hail from an extraordinarily wide variety of educational backgrounds and occupations: household movers, inventors, scientists, mathematicians, authors, teachers, sales professionals, third-graders, domestic engineers, consultants, geologists, dog-walkers, middle-school students, historians, grandmothers and even professional mycologists!  COMA members participate in our exciting sessions for different reasons: to satisfy a basic urge to forage for food and collect edibles for the dinner table, to become skilled at discerning the poisonous fungi, to study something about the roles they play in environmental biodiversity, and so on. More generally, what the student/teacher body has in common is a passionate interest in learning more about our bewildering world and in sharing what we discover with each other – or anyone.

Of course, COMA’s weekend MUSHROOM UNIVERSITY sessions offer more than an opportunity to become an expert identifier of mushrooms. There are trees to learn - which trees are mycorrhizal with which mushrooms? What about lichens?  What’s up with those tiny insects and slimy slugs that are regularly seen embracing and devouring the soft flesh of both the edible and the toxic fungi with comparable voracity?

Whether a forager, a pot hunter, a mushroom hugger or just the teensiest bit curious about these fruiting bodies, we also all share the enchantment experienced on hearing the Spring song of a wood thrush trilling from the tree tops; on discerning a patch of morels against the brown background of a puzzle of crumbly leaves; on seeing a squirrel’s cache of Boletus edulis piled high on a hemlock stump; on discovering the stunning beauty of a deadly Amanita virosa. It is nice to be in the woods!

We also take pleasure in the camaraderie of fellow enthusiasts, like the affable Don Shernoff, engineer, gyroscope inventor, college educator and my patient mentor, who can tell you about over one hundred different species of mushrooms that he has eaten.  Mark DeBellis, COMA’s self-made expert in the Boletales and Lactarius, is always enthusiastic to explain to newcomers the difference between a Lactarius volemus and a Lactarius hygrophoroides – or how to dry edible boletes.  Gentle and generous George Johanson delights in sharing his information about the health benefits of edible wild plants.   Veteran members Sandy and Gerry Sheine, the ultimate fun fungal nomads, have fascinating tales to tell us of their mycophile adventures. We can also learn a lot about woodland plants from native wildflower author and teacher Carol Levine, and volunteer naturalists Diane Alden and Rena Wertzer, to name just a few.  Rub shoulders with COMA president, Dave Rose, archivist, historian, author, and educator, and you may even be treated to verbatim passages from Thoreau’s Walden Pond!

While not part of the admission requirements, it is suggested that you students/teachers bring a collecting basket, a 10X magnifying lens, waxed or paper bags to hold specimens, a knife and brush to cut and clean your finds – and insect repellent to spray on yourself. It is also recommended that you have available a good field guide, such as Gary Lincoff’s Audubon Guide to North American Mushrooms, to consult while debating the efficacy of tossing seven different species of untried mushrooms into an omelet to serve your spouse for dinner that night – and/or for the identification session following lunch.  Don’t forget to bring your lunch or food to share (and automatically receive Extra Credit)!  Mushrooming, even at a turtle’s pace, is known to work up a ferocious appetite!

We all live hectic lives, but need to make time for learning from each other about the weird and wonderful world of fungi in the relaxing atmosphere of our outdoor regional campuses!  In the event you misplaced your ‘course’ schedule from our spring SPORES ILLUSTRATED publication, as Dean of Admissions (Membership Chairperson), I will periodically notify you of our educational mushrooming opportunities by e-mail.  If your e-mail address has changed and you would like to be reminded of our walks, contact me at  If you don’t have e-mail, but would like to receive a replacement schedule, call me at 914-271-5209.  In any case, JOIN US OFTEN and earn your environmentally correct paperless Degrees of Satisfaction often! *

*Unlimited Advanced non-degree Degrees of Satisfaction are offered on COMA’s unaccredited weekend MUSHROOM UNIVERSITY walks to all regular participating COMA members and their guests.  Restrictions apply for hooky players.