Date: July 15-17, 2016
Leader: Charlotte Caplan
You forget, until you go back, just how beautiful Purchase Knob is. The 270 degree sweep of view changes every minute as clouds build and dissipate, the mountains vanish in the rain, then re-emerge through the smoky fragments of the storm.
Seventeen of us arrived at the house on Friday afternoon for a foray along the Ferguson Cabin trail, and Dr. Paul Super, the Park's Science Coordinator joined us for 18. We were halfway around the loop when Diego whooped “Chicken!” - the first of many gold strikes. At a guess there was a log bearing Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) for every 5 acres of forest and Diego (“El Pollo”) spotted most of them. We got back to the house 5 minutes before the obligatory afternoon thunderstorm.
More people arrived in the evening, including our mycologist Dr. Andy Methven, recently retired from E. Illinois University, and the house & campsite filled up. On Saturday morning it rained at breakfast for a change, but cleared before the last people joined us for Saturday morning's foray. We went out in two groups, north and south along the Cataloochee Divide trail – about 30 people in all.
After lunch the weather held but the group fragmented. Half a dozen took the trail that starts off up the Knob but peters out before the top. Another hardy group ran all the way down into Cataloochee Valley and back - 8 miles and 2000 ft of ascent. And they brought back some specimens! The foray leader & friend drove sedately down the access road for a “rolling foray” and came back loaded with boletes. The children (did I mention we had seven of them – surely a record) had a scavenger hunt and played a complicated board game. A banjo and a guitar got together. It was all good.
On Saturday evening, after our potluck dinner, Andy Methven gave us an illutstrated talk on the Mushrooms of the Southern Appalachians with emphasis on ecological relationships and the origins of our area's astonishing diversity. On Sunday morning we had Andy's walk around the tables and the inevitable cleaning up. We left the house clean and Bristol-fashion so we know we will be welcome again.
The foray species total was 134. Eleven species were new to AMC. Best find was an unusual little stinkhorn, Phallogaster saccatus, also called Stink Poke, that never breaks out of its pinkish skin but develops small holes through which flies reach the smelly, spore-laden slime inside. This may be the first record of it in the Smokies.
Perhaps we could have collected more if there hadn't been so much Chicken of the Woods in some people's baskets