Updated: Apr 10, 2022
WVMS Funga is a small group Willamette Valley Mushroom Society Members that have formed a study group dedicated to learning about fungi in Oregon.
WVMS Funga Study group in 2020 from left to right: Jordan Dodge, Henry Young, Autumn Anglin, Diana Reeck, Jeanie Taylor
In November 2019, WVMS held their 4th Annual Mushroom Show, in partnership with the Sustainability Living Center at Pringle Creek. This was one of the most successful events WVMS has produced with over 600 people attending the one day event. During the set up, members brought in truck loads of mushrooms which then had to be identified, sorted and placed near signs on long tables for the public to see. There were only a handful of skilled members who could identify mushrooms and place them appropriately and they were there for hours doing their best to keep up with the pace.
As the chair of this event, I was taking notes on what could be improved next year, and it seemed like the biggest need was for more people to help identify mushrooms for this show.
I asked around to see if anyone was interested in starting a study group with me to learn to identify mushrooms in the field. There were a handful of us that were enthusiastic about this and we decided to meet up. We did not know where to start and all had various levels of knowledge about fungi. Henry Young became our mentor and helped guide us through the learning process.
Henry and I came up with a loose course syllabus to get us started and we met after reading the first 60 pages of Mushroom Demystified by David Arora. Henry, Jordan Dodge, Diana Reeck, Jeanie Taylor, Beth Lampert, Patrick Heiman and I started with this book because it was a book we all owned and were familiar with. On our first meeting we began the day by going on a short foray and collected fungi. Then we met around a kitchen table and began trying to key out fungi while having lunch together.
On this trip we found Clitocybe sclerotoidea, a mushroom that has become one of my favorites to find because it is parasitic on Helvella, my all time favorite mushroom. The C. sclerotoidea has a cluster of mushrooms that is attached to a hypogeous (underground) sclerotia or mycelium mass that is buried. We were careful to collect the sclerotia attached to the cluster which is an identifying feature when trying to key this out. This mushroom took us about an hour to work through the key but we eventually identified it with the help of Henry. Over the next few months, as I encountered this fungi again and again, I started to remember the name and read more about it as my vocabulary expanded. I found for me, I can learn to identify a mushroom if I encounter it and spend time with it. Just reading field guide books with no field work does not make the information stick.
Helvella vespertina on left (black capped fungi); Cluster of Clitocybe sclerotoidea that parasitize Helvella on right (white capped fungi). Photo by Autumn Anglin 2021
We began meeting every two weeks and read about specific families, genera and keyed out species. The same formula was adhered to every time we got together; we would foray, then go back to a house and try to identify what we found. With each passing meeting, our observations became better and more informative. We read papers on collecting for fungarium collections, learned to say the latin words, learned how to use light microscopy to observe spores, bought more books on fungi, bookmarked hundreds of resources to correctly identify fungi and started the WVMS Funga project (originally named WVMS Mycoflora) on iNaturalist.
Diana and Jeanie were our resident plant and habitat experts. We relied heavily on their knowledge to teach us about trees, shrubs, plants and mycoheterotrophs in the forest. They opened our world to lichens, and the ectomycorrhizal partnerships with fungi. We went on habitat walks in the winter to look at branching and buds and they always kept us informed of the unique habitats we were in. You can not study fungi without habitat and we could not have learned as much without their guidance. To make sure we were including habitat in our studies we also started the iNaturalist project WVMS Plants.
Then the pandemic lockdowns started happening.
WVMS had to put a pause on large indoor group gatherings, cancel our mushroom show and in person speaking events. But the WVMS Funga study group carried on. Because of the lockdowns and the momentum we had to study, we were freed up from jobs, social obligations, school and all the normal schedules that make up life. So we continued to meet every two weeks, wearing masks, driving in separate cars, and social distancing in the woods as the virus shut everything down. For all of 2020 we got together to learn about fungi and got to see a complete year of seasons in Oregon. Instead of gathering around kitchen tables to discuss mushrooms I began hosting our meetings on Zoom. Even though we could not physically sit with a mushroom at a table, we could still discuss it, key it out and look at photos we had taken in the field. These discussions are what propelled our vocabulary and pushed each of us to learn and present on fungi. We each took turns researching families of mushrooms and presenting to each other. There is no better way to learn than to teach.
Learning microscopy is essential to making good observations of fungi. Often the only way to tell what mushroom you have is by its microscopic features. Photo by Autumn Anglin 2020
In 2020 WVMS Funga joined the Fungal Diversity Survey (FunDiS) to help with their FunDIS West Coast Rare Fungi Challenge. Their call was to,
"Help us find and document a target list of rare, under-documented or potentially threatened fungi. Scientists and conservationists need more data on these fungi in order to better understand and protect them. Your high quality observations can make a difference."
Since we had already started our own WVMS Funga project on iNaturalist, we decided to help in this conservation effort and sharing our observations with FunDiS. I signed us up and began exploring their resources and discovered they did DNA sequencing on fungi at cost. Since I had found some unidentifiable fungi, I wanted to have it sequenced so I could see if I had found a new species. I bought their kit, FunDiS field vouchers and learned how to take sterile fungal samples from my dried specimens to have sequenced. I could only afford to sequence 7 of my samples, so I sent in a Tectella, Trichoglossum, Donadina nigrella, Plectania melastoma, Pseudoplectania melaena, Neournula pouchetti and an unidentified Pezizales.
All 7 of my samples came back with great sequences which helped make my observations more complete. As I was discussing the sequenced with the team at FunDiS, I was put in contact with Don Pfister and Rosanne Healy to talk about my collection of Ascomycetes. I had never been a part of a scientific study before and asked that my samples and work be acknowledged and they agreed. I learned with it meant to be a parataxonomist through these amazing mycologists and scientists. Rosanne Healy and Dr. Matthew Smith from the University of Florida offered to sequence my entire collection of preserved Ascomycetes and brought WVMS Funga into the fold to contribute to their Pezizales study.
"The main goal of this project is to generate a robust genome-scale phylogenomic framework of fungi in the Pezizales for hypothesis testing, while training the next generation of systematists in state-of-the-art and classic techniques in fungal systematics and biodiversity inquiry. A resolved phylogeny will enable us to address questions regarding the genetic basis underlying (1) morphological transitions from epigeous (aboveground) cup fungi to the hypogeous (below ground) truffle habit, and (2) ecological transitions between saprotrophism, ectomycorrhizal mutualism, parasitism and bacterial farming."
Autumn mailing in her collection of Ascomycetes to the University of Florida's Pezizales Study. Photo by Autumn Anglin 2021
At the same time I was in contact to have the Ascomyctes sequenced, FunDiS reached out and asked me to apply for their Sequencing Grant. I applied immediately and WVMS Funga was awarded their highest grant; to have 50 specimens sequenced for free! Henry, Jordan, Diana, Jeanie and I all began collecting fungi to fulfill this grant. We only had about 6 months to gather, observe, do microscopy, and take sterile samples of the mushrooms. In November 2021, we sent in our box of 5o samples. This was the last of the sequencing FunDiS offered and we are so grateful to have been a part of it.
Epitubes for collecting fungal samples to get sequenced from FunDiS. Photo by Autumn Anglin 2021
As we moved into collecting for sequencing, we lost some of the momentum we originally had. It might have been due to the lockdowns ending and our lives returning to the normal hustle and bustle, or the hardships and loss our group members faced over the years, or the intense learning curve to understand DNA sequences. But through all of this, I had been developing a module based curriculum for our members to follow and learn about fungi, just as we had. In the 'members only' part of our website, I developed a syllabus and a system for other WVMS members to start their own self-paced study groups. I tried to promote it to our members, and a few were interested but it never gained traction. As we moved into 2022, Jordan and I decided to teach the modules and try and make learning field identification easier. We asked Henry, Diana and Jeanie to help us and everyone was enthusiastically on board and happy to get back to the basics.
In February 2022, 15 WVMS member signed up to work through the 10 modules with us in a year long course. We are thrilled that Yevgeniya, Nhien, Brian, Kerry, Jim, Margaret Richard, Dale, Courtney, and Dallyce have all enthusiastically joined with us to learn about fungi. The mentors are working together to highlight our strengths and pass on the knowledge to this new group. We had only developed the modules for a small group of people, and are adjusting our format to teach this larger group. We are sticking to our model of read, foray, discuss and then once a month we all get together over zoom to talk about the main Module topic. So far we have gone through 2 Modules, an introduction to fungi and learning to observe. We are moving into habitat exploration and microscopy in the next couple months and hope to have more community scientist that will be well trained, contributing to mycology and of course helping to identify mushrooms at our annual mushroom show.
Newly formed WVMS Funga group meeting after our first foray. Photo by Jim Scheppke 2022
I hope that 2022 brings our study group more opportunities to contribute to conservation and mycology as a whole. We are a dedicated group of life long learners and are always pushing each other to take the extra step. We are looking forward to getting our sequencing results and keep making our observations stronger.
Autumn Anglin is a citizen mycologist, artist, Vice-President of WVMS and WVMS Funga study group leader. She owns a ceramics art shop Autumn Steam Cermics, a graphic design and web design business Grey Girl Graphics, and a mycology blog MycoRadicate. She is a board member of Librarians With Spines and works with HICHAS Press designing and illustrating books. She in the process of running her own fungal DNA sequencing lab, is a Sequencing Validator at FunDiS and is developing a Fungi 101 course for teens. She lives on a one acre farm with chickens, lambs, ducks, cats, dogs, a bunny, her two teens and partner.