Forty years ago, a family physician named Dr. Sam Mitchel turned a hobby into a real scientific endeavor by establishing a "mushroom collection" at Denver Botanic Gardens. The fungal collection at the Gardens is now the largest actively curated herbarium of Rocky Mountain fungi in the world, with over 24,000 specimens representing over 2,000 taxa. Preserved collections of plants and fungi are called herbaria (herbarium is singular), and are an essential resource for scientists, land managers, botanical illustrators, horticulturalists, explorers, historians, educators, and others needing documentation or records about plants and fungi.
To honor its founder, the Gardens has established an endowment to help support scientific use of the collection, and thanks to the many contributors, we have reached a landmark goal that will be commemorated by naming the collection for Dr. Mitchel. In the words of Vera Evenson, current curator of the collection and apprentice of Sam Mitchel: "Always a great nature lover, on one of his family campouts with his boys, Kirk and Scott, in 1960 he discovered an abundance of beautiful mushrooms in Colorado’s high country. Right then and there he decided to try to identify them. Finding little help locally, he began his own studies, eventually founding an Herbarium of Fungi here at the Gardens a few years later as well as a mushroom study club. That club turned into our own Colorado Mycological Society, one of our most active plant societies here at Denver Botanic Gardens. "
Dr. Mitchel was not paid for his mycological service - it was simply his passion. A favorite quote: "I practice medicine to make a living and study mushrooms to make living worthwhile."
An official naming ceremony and event are being planned for October.
This blog post was written by Anna Sher, Ph.D., adjunct researcher and former director of the Research & Conservation Department at Denver Botanic Gardens.