Category Archives: Museum Collections

2018 Telluride Mushroom Festival and the Colorado Mycoflora Project

The Telluride Mushroom Festival is a destination for both the grounded, and more ethereal mushroom enthusiast. While it has a history of catering to the latter, one thing that is true about the festival is that everyone in attendance is united by their affection for these organisms.

If you’ve spent any time exploring this website, you may have come across our About page. Telluride is located in the Southwestern portion of Colorado, and the map provided on the above page demonstrates that we have a lot of work to do to better represent the mushroom diversity in this part of the state.  This makes the Telluride Mushroom Festival a great opportunity for us, and also a great opportunity to expose the Festival’s community to this project and what we can learn from it.

Along with several other academic mycologists, Andy was invited down to help promote the Colorado Mycoflora Project through the coordination of a voucher program, providing a seminar on the project, and sitting down on a discussion panel on the theme of, “Mycology in the Molecular Biology Era … For Beginners and Citizen Scientists“. Every event was well attended and well received. There seemed to be a lot of enthusiasm for the Project, as well as curiosity in the what, why, and how of the approach to studying fungal biodiversity.

Several speakers gave excellent talks about the world of mycological research. Our own Rick Levy gave a great talk on the importance of making scientifically relevant mushroom collections. Jeff Ravage gave a talk on his mycoremediation project. Poor guy had to compete for attention against Paul Stametes who was also giving a lecture at that time, but he got a decent turnout regardless. Cathie Aime gave two talks. The first one captivated the audience with stories of her mushroom adventures in the wilderness of Guyana. The second seminar focused on the fascinating biology of the rust fungi. And perhaps the most spectacular academic lecture I’ve ever witnessed was given by David Hibbett, who for his talk channeled the ghost of Theophrastus, the “father of botany”. In his talk he regaled us with mycology’s origins as an aspect of botany. He also demonstrated that we are all somewhat guilty of “ladder thinking” when we attempt to evaluate and categorize different forms of life. David gave a second seminar that was equally well received, the subject of which fed into a demonstration he gave showing how different phenotypic forms of fungi are distributed through the fungal tree of life.

As for the vouchering program that the Colorado Mycoflora Project intended to implement at Telluride, this remains a work in progress.  For one, our (=my) idea of implementing a protocol much like we had at the CMS Fair the week prior, will not really work well in this environment. We’ll likely need to resort to a more traditional format where individuals go out on individual forays and either recruit other festival attendees, sympathetic to our efforts, or provide focused forays with the intent to make collections for the Project. Another issue was how dry Telluride was for the Festival.  The ID tent had mostly bare tables.  While people were able to make collections on their forays, many of the specimens were in poor shape.  It was also challenging to get the necessary collection information from those that dropped off their specimens. This is likely a communication issue that we can do better on, and something we plan to aggressively address for future forays and festivals. Regardless, we were able to return to DBG with well over 60 collections, with the count still climbing.

A special thanks to all the folks at the Festival that helped with the vouchering and supporting the Project: Brian Barzee (you rock! sir.), ever stalwart Amy Honan, Eddie Elzarian, Alisha Quandt, Linnea Gillman, Bill Adams, Jeff Ravage, Rick Levy, Cathie Aime, David Hibbett, Mike Wood, Giuliana Furci, Trina Wilson, Bruch Reed, and John Plishke.

 

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Theophrastus possessed the body of David Hibbett and regaled the Telluride community on the history of mycology since ancient Greece.

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Cathie Aime’s second talk of the festival educated on the complicated yet charismatic nature of the rust fungi.

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Making relevant scientific collections is the goal of the Colorado Mycoflora Project, and we’re lucky to have Rick Levy help explain its importance to enthusiastic citizen scientists.

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Panel discussion on the topic: Mycology in the Molecular Biology Era … For Beginners and Citizen Scientists. From L-R: Rick Levy, Andy Wilson, John Pleschki, Cathie Aime, David Hibbett, Mike Wood, and moderator Giuliana Furci.

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David holding court discussing the evolution of mushrooms, corals, puffballs, and other forms of macrofungi.

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Amy Honan and Eddie Elzarian at work processing Telluride mushroom specimens.

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L-R: Rick Levy, Amy Honan, Andy Wilson, Alisha Quandt, Cathie Aime, David Hibbett.

Colorado Mycological Society 2018 Mushroom Fair: THE AFTERMATH!

Whew! Whatta weekend. This year’s Colorado Mycological Society fair saw a record crowd.  Over 2200 people walked through the doors of Mitchell Hall at Denver Botanic Gardens. While by all external measures indicating this year to be a dry year, we still managed to collect the metadata of: collector ID, date, location, and, to some degree, habitat and lat/long coordinates, for over 550 collections of macrofungi in two days.

I have to give a big thanks to our fair identifier, Dr. Michael Kuo.  That man was a machine, providing identifications for 286 specimens. This production took place from 1 pm on Saturday until late into the evening, and continued on early Sunday until he had to leave around 2pm to catch his flight.

The preliminary count stands at 141 species of macrofungi that came through the fair. We stress this number as ‘preliminary’ because it includes all of the specimens identified as ‘sp.’, which were counted only once per genus, and for several genera there were many specimens identified only to ‘sp.’. This include Cortinarius and Russula, each having 26 specimens identified as ‘sp.’, and genera such as Inocybe and Galerina, which had 7 and 6 respectively.

The ‘star’ of the fair (perhaps ignominiously) was a rather putrid species of Gautieria which produce these intense phenolic compounds that are reminiscent of some strong petroleum like chemical, or a rather pungent cheese.  In describing this fungus to the public, and it’s design to attract rodents as vectors of spore dispersal, I’d say I came across equal numbers of people who found the smell either pleasant or disgusting.

In the end, we collected a subset of all of these specimens for vouchering in the Sam Mitchel Herbarium of Fungi. While we would love to have captured more of the diversity, a combination of rotting specimens, insufficient quality of the collection (too few representatives), and need for better coordination prevented us from capturing a better cross section of what came through the fair. However, in terms of documenting the meta data for each of the specimens, I think our efforts were a great success.  I’m already looking forward to next year to up our game even more!

Acknowledgements: A big thank you to our guest fair identifier, Dr. Michael Kuo. You sir set a standard that is hard to beat! Big ups to fellow Colorado Mycoflora Project comrade, Amy Honan who came all the way over from Crested Butte to help out at the fair. To the Colorado Mycological Society for putting on yet another smashing event. Also grateful for the amazing help of Trina Wilson, Michael McKibben, Danila Romanov, Ed and Ikuko Lubow, Linda Plessinger, Ellen Jacobson, and Eddie Elzarian.

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The Gautieria that ‘funked’ up the herbarium with its petroleum/cheesy odor. Fortunately only a few of us were exposed to its funk when fresh. Dried it was still odorous, but much more tolerable.

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Some amazing Laccaria collections came through the Fair.

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The Fair is also a good place to recruit future mycologists.

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L-R: Michael Kuo, Amy Honan, Vera Evenson, Andrew Wilson.

Why Fungi?

Plants are at the pinnacle of terrestrial life and the energy they harness from sunlight flows down to every other land-dwelling organism on the planet. What is often taken for granted is that plants, as we know them, would not exist without fungi. Fungi are essential to ecosystem health. They are critical symbionts that help plants grow. They help to such an extent that they make trees possible. Think about that. Trees would not be able to achieve the sizes they do without essential nutrients supplied to them by their fungal partners. In addition, the massive amounts of structural tissue that plants produce in the form of cellulose cannot be metabolized by the vast majority of organisms. Fungi, on the other hand, are the planet’s most efficient decomposers of plant-based carbohydrate, converting an otherwise indigestible molecule into nutritious fungal matter, and providing critical resources for other organisms in the ecosystem’s food web.

The Colorado Mycoflora Project is a regional contributor to the North American Mycoflora Project.  The more than 2,300 species of Colorado macrofungi accessioned in the Sam Mitchel Herbarium of Fungi represents a small fraction of the diversity likely found in the Southern Rockies. Through greater regional sampling and the use of DNA sequence data this project will provide knowledge and educational opportunities about the diversity of macrofungi of the Southern Rocky Mountains.

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