Someday, I hope to find a new species of fungus. If you have similar aspirations of discovery, the fungal kingdom is a great place to start. Using high-throughput genomic sequencing, scientists estimate that there are as many as 5.1 million fungal species on Earth, which outnumbers plant species 6 to 1! The fact that we have only described a tiny fraction of them leaves me in a constant state of forest floor probing. Learning already described species is a fantastic experience, don’t get me wrong! But finding something new to science, well that my friends, that keeps me up at night.
The first time I found Mycena leaiana, I had a feeling it had been described. I was almost certain actually. I found it in a state park that was quite popular amongst fellow Buffalonians because it’s less than 50 minutes away from the city epicenter. Unfortunately, as we know, places with heavy foot traffic are not left in pristine condition. At high density, people and their dogs damage habitats. Bottles litter the ground, spring ephemerals are trampled, and don’t forget the initials scratched in to beech trees that read something like JD+MN forever 2008. I assumed places like this were not hiding new, undescribed species. However, the sight of this bright orange mushroom was enough to distract me away from the cruel urban conquest that is today. After marveling at this grouping of brightly colored gilled mushrooms, I took several pictures, and raced home to identify.
Once home, I grabbed my outdated North American mushroom identification book and began keying it out. Ah-ah! Mycena leaiana- a mushroom that sounds as pretty as it looks. I soon learned that this mushroom was named after a mushroom enthusiast like me, in 1845. Thomas Gibson Lea (1785-1844), was infatuated with the natural world, and lived during a time of scientific exploration and identification in the New World. This time of European infiltration to the Americas was exciting for naturalists alike. The newly encountered assemblages of species brought an air of discovery which lead the amateur mushroom enthusiasts surveying the forest floor. Lea collected around 280 species around Cincinnati, and had sent them to experts in the field.
Unfortunately, before the world-renowned mycologist and botanist Miles Joseph Berkeley received the 280 specimens, Lea had passed away. To acknowledge Lea’s contribution to mycology, Berkeley named this amazingly charismatic species after the forest floor fanatic. I know it’s not 1845, but I can’t help but think that I can also add to this realm of biology. I’m not trying to get ahead of myself but if I do describe a new fungal species, I already kind of have a name. I would pay homage to a close friend-the man behind In Defense of Plants, for his ongoing contribution to the botanical community and orchid conservation. Honestly, I have him to thank for this blog. Thanks Matt. Mycena Candeiasis has quite the ring, doesn’t it? Happy Friday everybody!