Mushroom Discovery on Campus

November 23, 2015

Team describes first new species from campus in more than 30 years

Else Vellinga

Plant & Microbial Biology

Two researchers who recently named the first new species of mushroom from the UC Berkeley campus in more than 30 years are emphasizing the need for continued green and open space on campus, as well as a full-fledged catalog of all North American mushroom species.

Else Vellinga and Nhu Nguyen were ecstatic last year when they found and described Helvella dryophila, a beautiful black “elfin saddle” associated with oaks on Observatory Hill, an open space area next to the C.V. Starr East Asian Library. The mushroom is edible, but doesn’t taste very good and may be poisonous if not cooked properly. They published a paper about their finding in Mycologia.

“So far only 11 other species have been described from campus,” Nguyen said. “The last time this happened was in 1985.”

The find illustrates the importance of maintaining and retaining open space and healthy vegetation on Cal’s 1,232-acre urban campus, the researchers said. The discovery also demonstrates the need for a definitive catalog of mushrooms in North America, a longtime goal of Professor Tom Bruns of the Department of Plant & Microbial Biology at UC Berkeley.

Vellinga currently works as a Research Associate in the UC herbarium and in the Bruns Lab, and Nguyen was a graduate student in the Bruns Lab, before graduating and going to Professor Peter Kennedy’s Lab at the University of Minnesota as a postdoctoral scholar.

Bruns is one of the world’s foremost experts on fungal ecology.  The research done in his lab regarding fungi that are symbiotic on tree roots is at the cutting-edge. For years, Bruns has been trying to get funding in order to put together a catalog of North America mushroom species; this project is tangential to his main work in fungal ecology, and is a necessary step for the field of fungal biology.

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