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A pipe clutched between his teeth and a camera slung around his neck, Martin Osis lay in the dirt, focused his lens and photographed the mushroom he just found on the floor of Hixon Forest.
There was the delicate white fungus, maybe an inch tall, growing off a twig no longer than a child's pinkie finger, and the tiny red mushroom that arched into a cup. There were others, too, and he rattled off their names as if they were old friends he'd just stumbled upon in the middle of a Wisconsin forest.
Osis is glad mushrooming is a hobby not everyone gets excited about: It leaves more fungi for him to find.
This is the first time Osis, from Edmonton in Alberta, Canada, has attended the North American Mycological Association annual foray, which started Thursday at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
He was joined by Melanie Fjoser and Bill Richards, fellow members of the Edmonton Mycological Society.
They were among the 45 people who spent at least an hour Thursday in Hixon Forest, searching for mushrooms and other fungi. Other events include lectures by renowned mycologists, but the draw for many conference participants are the daily forays into area forests.
"Foray - that's our fancy word for going out into the woods and hunting for mushrooms," UW-L professor Tom Volk said.
Volk, considered a mushroom expert, said this is the first time the NAMA conference has been at UW-L. Jon Palmer was one of several graduate students who led the mushroomers to Hixon and helped them navigate the paths.
Palmer said many came with baskets or wax-lined bags so they would not crush their fungi finds. He uses a plastic container favored by fishermen for their bobbers and lures.
Volk cautioned that there may be little to find, since the area had been dry. But within seconds of entering the forest, people were crouching down to examine fungi of all colors and sizes.
What most people consider a mushroom actually is the fruit of the fungus, Osis said, much like an apple is the fruit of a tree.
Mushrooms have more uses then just topping pizza - many have medicinal purposes, Palmer said. Penicillin, for instance, is produced by a fungus, as are many other antibiotics.
Since mushrooms can be poisonous as well, even hardened fungi forayers are careful before they take a sample. The trio from Canada have researched mushrooms for a combined 20 years, but still placed their finds Thursday into a basket Osis carried. They planned to classify them when they returned to campus, before even thinking about popping them into their mouths.