News

For the Love of Fungi: an ode to the amateur mycologist

Thu., Sep. 15, 2022

By Claudia Victoroff, MS, Graduate Student

By Claudia Bashian-Victoroff

Mycology, or the study of fungi, is a small but growing field. For many of us career mycologists this has been a curious but fantastic trend to see. Not long ago I was shyly describing my job to inquisitive relatives and family friends, or trying desperately to convince people to care about the strange and often overlooked fungal kingdom. In the past few years that has all changed. Where my career aspirations were once met with questioning or even skeptical gazes, they are now met with book recommendations and follow-up questions! Where my hobbies of foraging, growing, and cooking mushrooms were once met with outright distress from my loved ones, they are now met with pleas of “take me with you!”. But what has changed and who do we have to credit?

A mycophile (lover of fungi) with a bouquet of mushrooms!

Much of the growth in the field of mycology has happened in the amateur mycology scene. Many of the most legendary names in mycology are amateur mycologists. At mycology conferences we even have awards for those from non-traditional academic backgrounds who have made an incredible impact in the world of mycology! For example, the Mycological Society of America awards the Gordon and Tina Wasson Award, which has been earned by such revered and beloved mycologists as David Aurora (2016), Gary Lincoff (2017), and Giuliana Furci (2022). 

Many of the most knowledgeable mycologists have no traditional academic background in mycology or even career aspirations in the field, and yet academic mycologists often look to them for super precise knowledge of local fungi (sometimes down to the stump!), and broad (almost encyclopedic) knowledge of mushrooms and other fungi! Perhaps my favorite thing about the mycology world is that many amateur and academic mycologists interact with each other’s expertise with deep mutual respect! Often there is even a blurry line between who is a professional and who is an amateur mycologist. The best academics respect the local knowledge of amateur mycologists and mushroom clubs, and the best amateurs pay mind to changing scientific nomenclature as we learn more about fungi at the level of their DNA!

Students around a table, identifying their mushroom collections. This is how everyone begins, with many books and help from friends!

It’s worth defining the word “amateur”. Mariam-Webster offers three alternative definitions: First, “one who engages in a pursuit, study, science, or sport as a pastime rather than as a profession”, second, “one lacking in experience and competence in an art or science”, and third, but definitely my favorite, a “devotee or admirer”. The etymology of the word “amateur” comes from the French “ameour” , or “one who loves, lover” (etymology.com). This third definition has proved the most descriptive of amatuer mycologists, in my experience. Some of the most devoted and passionate mycologist I know found fungi as a love, rather than a career, and spend more time communing with fungi in their day to day lives than my colleagues in the world of academic mycology (who tend to be pulled away from the woods to teach classes, analyze data, or write papers).

Cortinarius violaceus, one of my first favorite mushrooms. Found in the White Mountains, NH.

So, if you love mushrooms or want to learn more about fungi, my advice (as a career mycologist, a fellow lover of mushrooms, and a big time devotee to the fungal kingdom) is to keep asking questions, never to underestimate the power of curiosity, to respect established amateur mycologists, and most importantly, to join your local mushroom club!

Gomphus floccosus, another stunning mushroom. Found in the White Mountains, NH.
Claudia Victoroff, MS

Claudia Victoroff, MS

Graduate Student

As a PhD student in the Burke lab, my research is focused on ectomycorrhizal fungi in forest ecosystems. I am passionate about coupling field collections with molecular identification methods to investigate ectomycorrhizal species diversity. My PhD research is focused on investigating ectomycorrhizal fungal communities in forests with different land use and disturbance histories. I am particularly interested in the functional roles that fungi with distinct life history strategies fill in soil, and in symbiosis with their plant partners. My masters research investigated ectomycorrhizal fungal fruiting responses to nitrogen and phosphorus additions in Bartlett Experimental Forest, New Hampshire.

Learn more about me

Gallery

Media Kit

Logos, images, B-roll footage and brand guidelines.

View kit

Get in Touch

Margs Cook Communication Specialist Email

What can we help you find?

Return to site

TOMORROW: 20221005 00:00 | 1664928000

Debug info for popularity tracking: Disable within popularity-tracking.php file once ready.

Time: 1664841600 / Saved: 1664841600

Views (7 day(s) ago): 6

Views (6 day(s) ago): 5

Views (5 day(s) ago): 6

Views (4 day(s) ago): 12

Views (3 day(s) ago): 18

Views (2 day(s) ago): 2

Views (1 day(s) ago): 6

Views (Today): 3