By Linda deLeon
The spark that started CMS was struck in the mind of Dr. Sam Mitchel. Dr. Mitchel was a prominent Denver physician who would spend some time in Central City in the summers treating the opera stars that sang there. Across the street was a store owned by the mother of Rosa-Lee Brace. Their conversation often turned to the gorgeous mushrooms they found on walks in the forest, which prompted Sam’s interest in finding out more. At the Natural History Museum in Denver, there was no mushroom collection, so in 1964 he formed a small group of people with some background in science to become a study group. They called themselves the Colorado Mycological Society, with Sam as the first President, Mary Wells as Vice President, and Rosa-Lee as secretary, treasurer and editor of the newsletter.
At this point, the Denver Botanic Gardens’ main buildings were not yet finished. CMS moved into the Waring House (south of the Gardens on York Street) and then, when the Conservatory Building was finished, the citizen scientists of CMS were able to store their tiny but growing collection in rooms on the lower floor, which was the original site of the Herbarium, with Vera Evenson named as its first curator in 1977.
Marilyn Shaw, another early CMS member, became interested in mushrooms because of a huge fruiting at the Shaws summer cabin in 1963. She searched out books about mushrooms, and developed enough confidence to identify, collect and cook up Lactarius deliciosus. Her husband Stuart saw a listing of the Mycological Society in a DBG publication and remarked that “You’d better join this group if you’re going to be feeding us mushrooms, so after taking a class from George Grimes, both Shaws joined CMS.
During the 1970s, the club flourished. Manny and Joanne Salzman organized the first Mushroom Fair, held at the Gardens. The collection grew to about 7,000 mushrooms (it’s now well over 20,000). The club also organized a set of conference in Aspen from 1975-78, which attracted participants from across the nation. Ellen Jacobson, who joined the club in 1977, remembers these mycologists and the forays led by CMS members.
The club has three times hosted the annual conference (called the Foray) of the North American Mycological Association (www.namyco.org), in 1983, 1997 and 2010. At the 1983 Foray, chanterelles were so thick on the ground that Lee and Linnea Gillman had to use large black plastic bags to hold them – and almost lost them to the Snow Mountain Ranch trash collectors! Club members also participated in the Rocky Mountain National Park’s first-ever Mycoblitz. This biodiversity study event was designed to sample fungi from habitats throughout the part for inclusion in the park’s comprehensive inventory of its animals and flowering plants.
The year 2009 saw the official dedication of the Herbarium of Fungi in honor of Sam Mitchel. Click here for a video of the event. And in March 2014 we had the largest-ever crowd at one of our regular meetings, when about 350 people came to hear Paul Stamets speak on “Six Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World.” Click here to watch his famous TED talk on the subject.