Tom Volk's Fungus of the Month for August 2004

Boletus barrowsii, Chuck Barrows' bolete.

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Boletus barrowsii Boletus barrowsii is a paler close relative of Boletus edulis, but with a more restricted distribution, being found only in the mountains of New Mexico, Colorado and possibly west to California. Once thought to be only a variety of B. edulis, it is now considered to be a different species and was named Boletus barrowsii after Chuck Barrows, an amateur mycologist who discovered the species. Choosing this Rocky Mountain mushroom as Fungus of the Month also highlights my visit this month to the Colorado Mycological Society, where I'll be participating in their excellent annual Mushroom Fair, and New Mexico Mycological Society, where I'll be going to their foray at Angel Fire Ski Resort near Taos. I hope to find Boletus barrowsii and lots of other interesting mushrooms.

As I mentioned on my Boletus edulis page, there are probably a number of species in different parts of the world and different parts of this country that are masquerading under the name Boletus edulis. There's even some question of whether we have true Boletus edulis in North America, since the species was described from Europe. What we call Boletus edulis in midwestern North America bears little resemblance to what I have seen in New Mexico and Colorado, which is the closest I have seen to the European species, with its bulbous base and coloration. Boletus barrowsii is reported to be sweeter and larger than its cousin B. edulis. Boletus barrowsii also prefers edge habitats with ponderosa pine rather than the deeper woods of B. edulis, although it's easy to find exceptions. Unfortunately, since the insects like it a lot too, it's difficult to find good specimens that are not riddled with "worm" holes.

So how did Boletus barrowsii get its name? Chuck Barrows had been studying the mushrooms of New Mexico for many years. Year after year, he had noticed the very different coloration and somewhat different habitat of certain groups of mushrooms from the classic Boletus edulis (also found in New Mexico) and surmised that what he had was probably a new species. He sent dried specimens with very careful and accurate descriptions of the fresh mushrooms to Alexander H. Smith and Harry Thiers (then a graduate student of Smith) at the University of Michigan. Smith and Thiers agreed that it was a new and distinctive species, and decided to name the fungus Boletus barrowsii, after Chuck Barrows. Chuck repeated this scenario many more times over the course of 35 years, seven of those times resulting in a new species description. Besides Boletus barrowsii, these includeLactarius barrowsii, Amanita barrowsii, and Hebeloma barrowsii. Anybody know the other three?

Chuck, unfortunately, is no longer with us, having passed away at the age of 85 in 1989. Below are perhaps the most interesting obituaries ever written about a mushroom expert. Thanks to Pat Brannen of Albuquerque for sending me many newspaper clippings about Chuck, whom I never got the chance to meet. Pat adds that whenever the mushroomers of New Mexico get together and talk about Chuck, they always end up smiling.

Chuck Barrows with an armful of Boletus barrowsii

Albuquerque Journal May 30, 1989

Chuck Barrows

The pursuit of his artwork drew Chuck Barrows to Santa Fe, but the love of his mushrooms made him a name here. Barrows, 85, died May 28 of cancer in his Santa Fe home. When he moved to Santa Fe from Pennsylvania in 1928, Barrows was painting landscapes in oils and watercolors. He married his first wife, Mary Palmer, in 1934. The two had their only son, Bradley, a year later and lived during the Depression era near Chimayo.

It was then that Barrows became a full-fledged naturalist, his son said. He hunted rabbits, fished and collected food to eat. Outdoor themes continued to influence Barrows' painting during this time, and he also took on odd jobs to earn money.

Barrows and his first wife were later divorced, and he married Mary Camp. Barrows then began his silk-screening business, Tewa Enterprises, in Santa Fe. Barrows learned silk-screening in New York, and while there he hiked in upstate forests, where he found delicate, intriguing mushrooms. The unusual shapes and colors of the fungi appealed to the artist in Barrows. The exotic flavors appealed to his culinary side. And hiking in the woods to find mushrooms satisfied the outdoorsman in him.

When Barrows returned to his Santa Fe home, scouting out and identifying mushrooms immediately became a hobby. He soon became a self-taught expert in the field of mycology-the science of fungi. Barrows later founded the New Mexico Mycological Society and was widely considered the leading expert in mush- rooms of the Southwest.

When Barrows sold his silk-screening business and retired in the late '70s, he spent most of his time hunting mushrooms around Santa Fe and teaching classes in mushroom identification and use. His love of mushrooms also helped Barrows occupy his time after the death of his second wife. Barrows would send those mushrooms he had trouble identifying to Alexander Smith, a leader in mycology at the University of Michigan. The two sent mushrooms back and forth to one another with drawings and explanations for about 35 years.

Some of these specimens baffled Smith as well. Then the two would realize that Barrows had discovered a new species of mushroom. He found about 10 new varieties in all, many of which are named after him, Bill Isaacs, who taught mushroom classes with Bar- rows, said. Two examples are the Boletus barrowsii and the Amanita barrowsii.

"Chuck was an expert on local mushrooms and could tell you the context in which they occurred, their seasons, how they were used, and exactly where they grew," Isaacs said. People interested in mushrooms flocked to Barrows, Isaacs said, because he had an unscientific approach-delighting in colors, shapes, sizes and tastes. His mirthful stories and jolly, warm disposition made the study of mushrooms an art as well as a science.

Once, Isaacs said, Barrows told a story about finding a new mushroom during his travels in Mexico. He was with several friends when they spotted the small, delicate fungus. All but Barrows were reluctant to sample it. Barrows, though, ate a handful of the caps. Soon he began giggling and realized the mushroom was hallucinogenic. Embarrassed that his laughter was uncontrollable, Barrows got into the back seat of a car in the Mexico village. He pulled a blanket over his head and stayed there, laughing, for four hours.

"Chuck sampled them all. He had a great enthusiasm for mushrooms and life in general. He was also an epicure and had a very culinary approach to how mushrooms should be used," Isaacs said, adding that Barrows concocted his own mushroom recipes. He prepared one variety with egg batter and crumbs, poached or dried others and prepared an outstanding white sauce with one of his favorite mushrooms. Barrows is survived by his son and daughter-in-law of Santa Fe, Bradley and Mary Barrows; three nephews in California, Howard, Harvey and Dale Barrows; a cousin in Texas, Paul Barrows; three grandchildren in Santa Fe, Kevin, Korrin and Kirk Barrows; and a granddaughter, Laura Barrows.

Chuck Barrows, old bold mushroom hunterSanta Fe Journal June 2, 1989

Barrows' memory: mushroom master, adventurer, artist
By Tamar Stiebar

Charles "Chuck" Barrows, a self- educated expert in the study of mushrooms, liked to tempt fate by experimenting with poison varieties. He survived his experiments with ease and lived to the age of 85. Barrows died Sunday at his home after a yearlong battle with cancer.

His name will be remembered. It is attached to eight varieties of mushroom he discovered, including Boletus barrowsii. A lifelong member of the National Amateur Mycology Association, Barrows was an avid mushroom collector, especially of the edible kind.

But he constantly tempted fate, according to his friend, Nancy Daniel, who said Barrows loved to experiment with all types of mushrooms, even those with a fatal reputation.

"If it was supposed to kill you, he'd try one to see what would happen. He figured he needed to know all the intricacies," said Daniel, a landscape architect in Santa Fe. Repeating the mushroom hunter's oft-used line** of "old or bold," she added that Barrows defied the odds by being both.

Barrows also liked to experiment with flavors, said Daniel, who remembered how he once pulled a licorice-flavored mushroom out of his pocket in an ice-cream parlor and plopped it on a dish of vanilla ice cream. "The waitress almost passed out," she recalled with delight.

Despite his renown in the field of mycology, Barrows had no formal training in the subject. He began his adult life as a chemist, spending three years working in a Pennsylvania chemical laboratory. Barrows' artistic temperament got the best of him, however, and he left his job to attend the Carnegie Technical Institute's College of Fine Arts. A year later, he enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts summer session, where tie supported himself by washing dishes.

Barrows continued his hand-to-mouth existence in New York, spending several frustrating years trying to make a living while going to art school. Tired of the struggle, he decided to move to Santa Fe in 1928, where he remained until his death Sunday.

Barrows still had New York in his blood for at least his first seven years in Santa Fe, however, hopping freight trains during the Depression to spend winters in the city that proved to be such a disappointment for him. "He didn't let the dust grow under his feet. That's for sure," said his son, Bradley, who was with him when he died.

Like so many other Easterners, it was in Santa Fe that Barrows made his mark as an artist, working in watercolors, oils and eventually silk-screening. One of the founding members of the American Serigraph Society for silk screeners, Barrows in 1950 co-founded a silk-screening business in Tesuque, Tewa Enterprises, which he sold in 1964.

Barrows is survived by hits son, Bradley; daughter-in-law, Mary; grandchildren Korrin, Kevin and Kirk; and his great-granddaughter, Laura.

**The oft-repeated line is: "There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters." Clearly Chuck Barrows was exceptional in many ways.

Boletus barrowsii watercolor by Beverly HackettReading about Chuck, you should certainly be amazed by his dedication to mushrooms, inspiring others to learn about his passion and participating in the scientific processes of identifying more kinds of mushrooms and their geographic distributions. This is just one of many examples of contributions by amateur mycologists to the field of mycology. There are many excellent amateur mycologists, many of whom know their mushrooms much better than I do! The line between professional and amateur mycologists can become very blurred!

As professional mycologists we are fortunate to have a myriad of amateur mycologists who are interested in what we are doing. Mycology is one of only four major disciplines (Ornithology, Astronomy, and Archaeology are the others) where amateurs play a significant role in research. Non-professional mycologists, either through their clubs or individually, provide valuable information about distributions of fungi, help to distinguish new species, and provide valuable specimens for experimentation and systematics. Truly the distinction between professional and amateur mycologists is quite hazy in many cases. There are numerous amateur mycologists writing mycological books and field guides. Many so-called "amateurs" are actually among the world experts on certain genera. Indeed, the list of professional mycologists who started out as amateurs is a long one. As academic mycological positions are lost to attrition and retirements and as fundable academic research turns towards DNA studies, amateur and paraprofessional mycologists are on their way to becoming the storehouses of knowledge about morphological species and fungal ecology. Amateur mycologists often provide specimens of fungi that we are interested in. As professional mycologists we are delighted and privileged to have amateur mycologists as our partners.

In general, there have been intense and meaningful interactions between professional mycologists and amateur groups. I, for one, applaud this state of affairs. The recent (July 2004) joint overlapping meetings of the North American Mycological Association (mostly non-professional mycologists) with the Mycological Society of America (mostly professional mycologists) was very successful. It was great to see the interaction of the two groups at forays, lectures and social events. Many people have had longstanding memberships in both groups-- for example I have been a member of MSA since 1980 and a member of NAMA since 1988, when my friends (and amateur mycologists) Veronica and Russell Pavlat gave me a membership for my Ph.D. graduation.

The interaction of professional with amateurs is in excellent shape. It appears that a considerable proportion of professional mycologists with expertise in the higher fungi have significant collaborations with amateur groups. These activities enhance and strengthen the participation of amateurs in field mycology, which follows a long established tradition. In fact, in most parts of Europe there is a more integrated situation with only one mycological society for both professional and non-professional mycologists. In the USA, I strongly encourage people to interact with both groups. You won't find any nicer people anywhere.

In return, many professional mycologists have deftly found their way to communicate with amateur mycologists on many different levels. The main activities are:

I am sure the close and synergistic relationship between amateur and professionals will continue for many years. This is something special that we all should treasure.

I hope you enjoyed learning something about Boletus barrowsii and friends. I hope to find lots of it on my trip to the southern Rocky mountains of Colorado and New Mexico this month. I am grateful for the help of amateur mycologists, and I hope some of you might be able to attend the NAMA foray in La Crosse, Wisconsin July 21-24, 2005. More information is forthcoming!

If you have anything to add, or if you have corrections, comments, or recommendations for future FotM's (or maybe you'd like to be co-author of a FotM?), please write to me at

This page and other pages are © Copyright 2004 by Thomas J. Volk, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

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