College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences

Department of Plant Pathology

A new future for fungi from the past

From:  On Solid Ground

Story by Rachel Webber, CAHNRS Communications

As Jack Rogers and Dean Glawe gently flip through volumes of fragile books filled with fungi collected more than 150 years ago, they say it’s like peering back to the beginning of modern biology.

Glawe, director of the Charles Gardner Shaw Mycological Herbarium at Washington State University, points out a tiny specimen growing on a piece of wood from West Virginia found in 1864.

“There it is,” he said. “It looks like little trees.” It’s one of several thousand fungi recently added to the mycological collection at WSU.

The collection of 5,500 specimens was a gift to WSU from the National Fungus Collections. There are 55 books of 100 dried fungi (fungi exsiccati).  Each book of 100 specimen packets is called a century. While the contents may be historic, their relevance is contemporary; they will be used as reference for many fungi found in North America, Rogers said. Not many old exsiccati are intact, the packets having been removed and put into general herbarium collections.

“They will really enhance the collection available at the herbarium,” said Rogers, retired director of the herbarium and WSU emeritus professor of plant pathology. “The contents of these packets are almost uniformly in beautiful shape.”

Each of the 55 books contains packets with individual fungi that represent major parts of the collection North American Fungi constructed and distributed by J.B. Ellis and B.M. Everhart from the late 1800s through the early 20th century and Fungi Columbiani by Elam Bartholomew.  Glawe said these naturalists likely examined the specimens under microscopes lit by kerosene lamps and took publishable notes in calligraphy. Read more. Watch Rogers discuss the collection’s history in a short video, here.

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