Thursday, March 25, 2010

An Interview with Donald Huffman: Part 2

Tell us about the history of Mushrooms and Other Fungi of the Midcontinental United States and about your coauthors.
I became interested in preparing a book about Iowa mushrooms about 1980 after several years of attending forays held by the North American Mycological Association, an organization with perhaps 25 professional mycologists who encouraged and worked with serious amateurs. 

My initial intent was to publish a small guide to some of the common mushrooms in Iowa. I had accumulated a fair-size collection of photos and thought I could prepare a book similar to those which NAMA members had published in other states. As I began to organize the book, I realized that if I attempted it alone, it would take me several years to complete.

For several years I had exchanged mushroom information with Lois Tiffany at Iowa State University. I called her to ask whether she would be interested in joining a mushroom book project. As usual, Lois was positive in her response. She asked if we could include George Knaphus, a botany teacher at ISU and a talented photographer who took the majority of mushroom photos which she used in her teaching materials. Beginning in 1981, we met nearly every month to look at photos, discuss the organization of the book, and share mushroom interests. 

It became evident that Dr. K’s mushroom photos were much better than most of mine. We realized that our area of collection was actually larger than Iowa alone, so we developed the concept of a regional book that would include the habitats we had collected from most heavily. Iowa State University Press published the book in 1989, and the 3,500 copies were sold out by about 1995.

In 2003, Holly Carver of the University of Iowa Press asked whether we would be interested in preparing a laminated guide to common mushrooms of Iowa. Lois and I agreed to prepare this, and it has been in print since 2004. George Knaphus had passed away, and Lois suggested that Rosanne Healy, a graduate student and departmental employee at ISU, join us in our effort. Holly then asked whether we’d consider preparing a 2d edition of Mushrooms and Other Fungi of the Midcontinental United States. Rosanne Healy had by that time become a talented mushroom collector and photographer. Lois and I agreed that if Rosanne would join the project, we would prepare the 2d edition of MOFMUS.

After many meetings, the 2d edition of our MOFMUS was published by the University of Iowa Press in March 2008. We included George Knaphus as a collaborative author because of his major contributions of the 1st edition, and we added Rosanne as an author because of her excellent photos, her descriptions of truffles and false truffles, and her major editorial and photographic contributions.

What has changed in the outdoor world since your first days of trying to learn about it and protect it?
My earliest memories regarding environmental problems are related to the Dust Bowl Days in Kansas, where I grew up. On several occasions we were sent home from school as the dusty winds darkened skies and left their mark on the Midwest. I remember placing damp cloths on window sills and at the base of doors to keep dust from blowing into the house. Our parents told us that these storms were the result of unwise agricultural practices in the Midwest along with an elongated drought.

It seems to me that we had greater access to natural areas when I was young. There were fewer fences, and we picnicked or hiked nearly anywhere without feeling like intruders. I think we have greater and better governmental oversight of natural areas than we had in my early years. I am not sure whether this has actually improved the respect and care of natural areas, but it at least reflects society’s concern to avoid unnecessary neglect and misuse of natural resources.

I have been sensitized to a greater extent to the problem of overpopulation; throughout the world, this remains a major problem regarding environmental damage and adequate food for everyone. I see this concern as a moral imperative, and I hope I stressed this sufficiently in my last years of teaching university-level biology.


Hypsizygus ulmarius (Bull.) Redhead (plate 81); edible
Elm Pleurotus
    Cap 8–12 cm broad, rounded to flattened to somewhat depressed; white to buff; small scales on surface; margin inrolled at first. Flesh firm; white.
    Gills adnexed, moderately separated, broad; white to cream.
    Stalk 5–10 cm long, 1.5–2.5 cm thick, nearly equal but sometimes expanded at base; white to sometimes yellowish at maturity; dry whitish hairs at top to nearly smooth in lower area.
    Spores 5–8 x 4.5–7 µm, nearly round, smooth; spore print white to buff.
    Single to clusters of two or three on hardwoods, particularly from branch scar sites on living or dead elms and box elders; fall.
    This edible species has a very tough stalk. The flavor is somewhat like that of Pleurotus ostreatus, which we consider a good edible mushroom. This late fall mushroom dries well and can be seen on trees into the winter. It was formerly called Pleurotus ulmarius.

Photograph & caption from Mushrooms and Other Fungi of the Midcontinental United States: Second Edition

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