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Sunday, June 16, 2024
NEWS  |  CAMPUS

Fun times with fungi: Florida Museum hosts “Mushrooms at the Museum”

<p><span>Alan Bessette, a mushroom expert and field guide author, identifies a mushroom during the "Mushrooms at the Museum" event Sunday at the Florida Museum of Natural History. About 70 people gathered to collect and learn about fungi with Bessette and his wife Arleen, a fellow mycologist.</span></p>

Alan Bessette, a mushroom expert and field guide author, identifies a mushroom during the "Mushrooms at the Museum" event Sunday at the Florida Museum of Natural History. About 70 people gathered to collect and learn about fungi with Bessette and his wife Arleen, a fellow mycologist.

Armed with sun hats, bug spray and multicolored wicker baskets, 70 people collected mushrooms Sunday at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

The event, called Mushrooms at the Museum, was the first fungi-focused experience held at the museum, said Chelsea Collison, the organizer of the event and a museum educator.

The museum partnered with mushroom scientists Alan and Arleen Bessette of Georgia, who have written more than 27 mushroom field guide books, as well as local organization Florida Academic Lichen And Fungi Enthusiasts League (FALAFEL) to put on the free all-day activity, Collison said.

From 10 a.m. to noon, participants searched for mushrooms on the Natural Area Teaching Laboratory trail behind the museum.

Arleen Bessette said the recent dry weather is not favorable for mushroom growth. Florida’s usual wet conditions are ideal for mushrooms. 

“It’s been a horrible year,” she said to the group. “So don’t expect any fruiting bodies.”

At the end of the walk, collections of more than 50 different species of all shapes and sizes filled a picnic table. Participants took notes and photographs as Alan Bessette identified the finds.

“I’m absolutely amazed to see how many things they brought in despite the dry conditions,” he said.

After the identification process, Alan Bessette gave a follow-up lecture titled “Dixie Chicks: The Hangouts and Habits of Gulf Coast Mushrooms.”

Bessette discussed different Gulf Coast mushroom habitats and talked about species like the Southern Jack-O’-Lantern, which glows green in the dark, and the Russula hixsonii, which smells like “freshly baked cake” when it is dried.

Bessette explained how wind can carry mushroom spores over 8,000 miles, causing species from the Caribbean and Africa to grow in Florida.

“You’re living in a great place to find mushrooms,” Bessette said to the crowd.

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Rebecca Ugo-Applegate said she didn’t mind driving two hours from Zephyrhills to come to the event with her husband. She wanted to get more involved in mushroom sciences after hiking.

“Looking for them distracts us from all the weight on our backs from our backpacks,” she said.

Ross Joseph, the president of FALAFEL, said he was happy with the turnout. He started studying fungi as a hobby 10 years ago after taking a college class that taught him about mushroom diversity. 

“I can’t say I like the taste of mushrooms as much as some people,” he said. “For me it’s really sort of like a scientific fascination.” 

Joseph, who is also a UF microbiology doctoral student, studies fungi that are symbiotic with insects and fungi that cause diseases in trees and insects in his microbiology lab. He is interested in how fungi interact with the environment and with other organisms, but he doesn’t like how they taste.

“What we want to do is take our knowledge of fungi and really disseminate it to the community,” he said.

Alan Bessette, a mushroom expert and field guide author, identifies a mushroom during the "Mushrooms at the Museum" event Sunday at the Florida Museum of Natural History. About 70 people gathered to collect and learn about fungi with Bessette and his wife Arleen, a fellow mycologist.

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