A good room for mushroom

MU houses a new collection of different types of fungi
Friday, July 16, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:54 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

Brad Bomanz loves mushrooms. He loves to cook with them and he loves to eat them. He also loves to collect them, a passion he traces back to his childhood.

Bomanz is a member of the Missouri Mycological Society, referred to as MOMS. It started in 1986 as a small group of amateur mushroom researchers and hunters. Now a chapter of the North American Mycological Society, MOMS has about 150 mushroom lovers.

MOMS has undertaken a monumental and unprecedented task — to collect a specimen of every species of fungi in Missouri. There are at least 30,000 species of fungi in the United States. Bomanz estimates that MOMS could easily find 3,000 species in Missouri alone. Currently, the MOMS collection comprises 211 species gathered during forays to parks and forests.

Bomanz delivered the collection to the MU Dunn-Palmer Herbarium on July 7. Founded in 1856, the herbarium is the oldest public library of plants west of the Mississippi River. Hundreds of thousands of plants have been collected, preserved and stored in the herbarium for reference, identification and public viewing. Although fungi are technically not plants, the MOMS collection has found a permanent residence at the herbarium. But getting there has taken a long time.

The dried fungi were originally stored in plastic bags in the collectors’ basements. The society then rented storage space at Washington University’s Tyson Research Center, but the climate was too humid and the cost too high. The society then contacted the Missouri Botanical Garden, which Bomanz said wasn’t sure what to do with the mushrooms since there was no proper curator for the collection.

Bomanz was then referred to Robin Kennedy, curator of herbarium, who was happy to house the collection.

“This is the kind of service we should be doing,” Kennedy said.

Under an agreement with MU, MOMS will provide storage for the mushrooms and oversee a database of the different species. The herbarium has agreed to make the collection open to the public. Bomanz said he hopes a permanent home will encourage the growth of the collection.

MOMS also has a field guide, with the working title Mushrooms of Missouri, in the works, Bomanz said. Mushroom hunting provides an opportunity to be outdoors and in the woods. It also takes some patience, Bomanz said, as one can never be sure where the mushrooms will be growing. That’s one reason Bomanz is pleased that the fruits of MOMS’ patience and labor have a home.

“I love it,” Bomanz said. “It’s fantastic. I can’t dream of a better way to get the information out.”

At the herbarium, the mushrooms are housed in a storage cabinet and are individually labeled in plastic bags. Each specimen has undergone scientific analysis to prove it is the type of fungi it is thought to be, and is labeled with its name, where it was found and when. Such cataloging allows visitors to the collection to see where different species once thrived.

State parks, where many of the species in the collection were found, are also using this collection to form their own database, Bomanz said. The database allows the parks to document what fungi species they have and to help them maintain their forests.

Kennedy sees the collection, which is now open to the public, as another contribution to the university’s role as a center of scientific information.

As Kennedy puts it, “Collect now, or else you won’t know in the future what you had.”

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