Patrick: We have about a thousand species of mushrooms, or macrofungi, for the Chicago area. Studying fungi is covered under what we call mycology.
Tom: The best way to learn about fungi is to join a mushroom club.
Patrick: For the Chicago area that would be the Illinois Mycological Association.
Britt: Going with the club is much more of a rewarding experience. You'll learn the mushrooms quicker, the correct way.
Tom: And that's a really good way to learn how to hunt mushrooms and learn about the ecology of them by going out with people who are knowledgeable, and they've been hunting mushrooms for five or ten or even fifty years.
Patrick: My role with the Illinois Mycological Association is as scientific advisor. Or they also call me the resident mycologist. I help the club with identifying fungi and helping them learn them. But what I get out of that is on the forays I am able to get specimens, and bring them back to the museum to add to the collections here.
Britt: Mycology, unlike most other fields of science, amateurs actually make real contributions to the field all the time.
Patrick: So, we may have several mycologists in the Chicago area, and other states around the country have mycologists, but we can't be everywhere at once. So, amateurs are useful in going on forays or on their own, and be out there finding specimens, taking photos, making notes, documenting what they find. And then they can bring that material in to their local mycologist or closest institution that might have a herbarium and work with somebody there in getting things identified and added to the collections.
Britt: It's just one more aspect about mycology that's really fun: you don't have to go to college or anything to get to know the mushrooms and become an expert in your area.
Music (cc) Podington Bear