© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

How Missouri mushroom hunters can help scientists document fungi DNA

Strobilomyces strobilaceus, also known as old man of the woods, are a species of edible mushroom found in Missouri forests.
Mike Snyder
Strobilomyces strobilaceus, also known as old man of the woods, is a species of edible mushroom found in Missouri forests.

The world of fungi is all around us, but it’s largely undocumented. Millions of species are still waiting to be identified. This year, as part of an ambitious project that’s seeking to identify every single mushroom in North America, Missouri mushroom hunters are being enlisted to join the effort by collecting samples of what they find in the wild.

The effort is a partnership between the Missouri Mycological Society and Indiana-based MyCota Labs. To participate in the project, foragers should photograph and log their findings, then dry and ship the samples to the lab.

The undertaking is ongoing in multiple states. The expansion to Missouri comes at a time of notable popularity for mushrooms — what some are calling a “shroom boom.”

“I think a lot of it has to do with the mystery of fungi,” Mike Snyder, president of the Mid-Missouri chapter of the Missouri Mycological Society, told St. Louis on the Air. “New species of fungi are being found all the time, and there's just a lot to learn about mushrooms.”

He added, “And, of course, a lot of wild mushrooms are delicious.”

So, what makes this mycological mapping necessary? It turns out that even the edible mushrooms typically found in Missouri, like chanterelles, have been misidentified. It’s part of a larger problem facing mycologists, said Steve Russell, the founder and president of MyCota Lab.

“Most of the species identified in most field guides in print today — I often say they won't withstand the test of time,” Russell explained. “There were a lot of Europeans that came to North America and described species and applied European names to our North American species.”

As an example, Russell pointed to a common forager favorite.

“Most of the yellow golden chanterelles in North America went under a single scientific name. And now we're discovering that there are probably dozens of different species that were all hidden under that one European species name.”

Russell estimates that it will take 10 years to document all species of mushrooms in North America. In Missouri, mushroom hunters do not need to be members of the Missouri Mycological Society to participate. More details on the project, including how to log and ship samples, can be found on the MyCoMap Missouri website.

To learn more about the ongoing “shroom boom,” and why mycologists like Steve Russell and Mike Snyder are excited about the prospects of fungi DNA, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcasts,  Spotify or YouTube, or click the play button below.

Missouri mycologists join effort to unlock the mysteries of mushrooms

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily WoodburyDanny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Roshae Hemmings is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org.

Stay Connected
Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."