Are you a Mushroom Expert?

By Heidi Anderson, PCC Naturalist

A couple of summers ago, I received one of the most unusual calls I’ve ever received in 16 years as a naturalist. The man started off by saying “This is probably an odd request, but would you be willing to meet and talk with my seven year old son? You see, he is terrified of mushrooms.” Whoa, wait a minute! Did he really just say mushrooms?

As a naturalist my job is to educate others about our natural world and I’ve talked with a lot of people about their fear of snakes or spiders, but never mushrooms. He went onto explain his son loved playing outside. But lately he wouldn’t go out because he thought there might be poisonous mushroom spores out there in the grass. His parents asked their son what would make him feel better. “Would you like to talk to a mushroom expert?” “Yes!” he replied!

His father reached out to me to see if I could be that mushroom expert. Could I meet him the next day? Of course! Now, I’m really not a mushroom expert, but I had less than a day to become one. The first place I turned to was Google. Did you know there’s a name for people with a fear or aversion to mushrooms? Mycophobia. I also pulled out my trusty field guides, books, and collected some fungus to show him if he wished.

The next day I met Brice, and he seemed like a happy normal seven year old. When we sat down, I asked him to tell me about mushrooms. He was very curious and told me one of his uncles said something about poisonous mushrooms and his fear grew from there. He was most concerned about getting hurt or sick from touching a mushroom or their spores. So we talked about mushrooms and how spores work. I gave him a choice about whether or not he wanted to look at some pictures of mushrooms found in Iowa. He was fascinated about the colors and whether or not they were poisonous. Did he want to look at some real mushrooms I had collected the day before? He didn’t want to, but just liked the pictures.

I think he left our office feeling better about mushrooms that day. Taking time to listen and talk to a child, one on one, without any other distractions was a memorable experience for me as a naturalist and hopefully for Brice too.
Heidi leading a fall hike and educating about fungus!


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