Correspondence of Mary L. Wilson and C. Peck
Edited by P. M. Eckel
Res Botanica
Missouri Botanical Garden
October 20, 2010
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Correspondence of

Mary L. Wilson (?-1919) and Charles Peck (1833-1917)  


Edited by P. M. P.O. Box 299, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, Missouri, 63166‑0299; and Research Associate, Buffalo Museum of Science, Buffalo, New York, 14204. Email:


[For proper citation of this online work, see end of this page.]




Description: Description: MaryWilson


Mary L. Wilson



Miss Mary L. Wilson Part III: The Correspondence of Miss. Mary L. Wilson (?-August 7, 1919) and Charles Horton Peck (1833-1917): August 13, 1897 - April 20, 1901.


Mary Wilson is here included in the body of what is known as the Clinton Correspondence, or, the correspondence of George William Clinton (1807-1885) even though Wilson and Clinton did not exchange letters, for the simple reason that she lived in the city of Buffalo, New York, and worked side-by-side with Clinton to develop what is known as the Clinton Herbarium of the Buffalo Museum of Science. This herbarium is centered in the collection of nineteenth century botanical specimens which Clinton assiduously assembled for both the State Herbarium in Albany, New York, the bulk of which, however, is housed at the Museum in Buffalo.


The photograph above is from the photograph album of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences dating from the 1860’s and 1870’s and reflects to a large extent to the correspondence of George Clinton. In the index at the front of the album there are 135 names corresponding to the sequence of photographs inserted into spaces on the pages. Each photograph is numbered to correspond to the name in the index. The names in the index are written in various handwriting, as the corresponding secretary of the Society tended to keep track of these photographs, but occasionally the name is written in by George Clinton, with his distinctive handwriting. In the space for No. 83, he wrote “Miss Mary L. Wilson.” Unfortunately, the photograph is missing from the slot in the album. However, the photograph above was found loose among the album’s pages - the only loose photograph observed. There seemed to be no other missing photographs of women in the album, so I am assuming this photograph belongs in the slot for number 83:  Miss Mary L. Wilson, but this is still an assumption.


Note that I have preceded Mary Wilson’s name with “Miss.” as this is the title she is given throughout her correspondence.


Little is known of Miss Wilson’s life in Buffalo, or the significance of her contribution to both herbaria at the time of Clinton’s involvement in the development of both, or what possible contribution she may have made to the history of North American Botany. Extant documents at Buffalo are few, yet significant. The largest body of letters written in her own hand, however,  happen to have been written twelve years after Clinton’s death in 1885, and to another botanist: Charles Horton Peck, one of North America’s most important mycologists of the late 1890’s and the State Botanist of New York. Peck was 64 years old when Mary Wilson initiated her correspondence with him. If Mary was around  twenty years old (as seems to be the case) in 1865 when it is probable that she was in collaboration with George Clinton, then she would be some fifty years old when she submitted her first letter, in 1897 (or 1896), to Charles Peck.


Before 1865, Peck had been groomed to be the first Botanist of the New York State Herbarium, at first by James Hall, and then Peck’s position was championed in the New York State Legislature in Albany by George Clinton, whose protégé Peck was subsequently to become.


As noted in Clinton’s hand written diary in 1867:


 “Jan. 15. About 1 P.M. got back from Albany & New York. In the  Regent's meeting at Albany, introduced a resolution that the cabinet  can, if the Legislature would provide the means,  employ a competent  botanist,  indicating C.  H.  Peck,  to take charge of the Herbarium  &c. In New York, spent an evening with Dr. Torrey. 


As Clinton’s protégé, Clinton would promote Peck’s initial study of the bryophytes, sending duplicate material to Albany from Clinton’s extensive international correspondents as well as field collections from western New York State. During the course of Peck’s involvement with Clinton, Peck effectively abandoned bryophytes for fungi. He educated himself in lichens, which was to become Mary’s field of expertise before leaving Buffalo. When in Buffalo, she also interested herself in the fungi, but perhaps more as a collector than a student.


I have not yet determined when Mary Wilson abandoned Buffalo for another state, but it corresponded roughly with the departure of Clinton to Albany in 1882. There is some indication that Miss. Wilson first went to Massachusetts after Buffalo, and this seems to be indicated in the letters below by her familiarity with certain residents of that state (letter of Feb. 18, [18]'99).


In the years subsequent to 1882, Mary lived for five years in Europe (letter: August 13, 1897). During the five years of the following correspondence with Peck, she resolutely lived south of the Mason-Dixon line, living with her mother at times in the Congressional Hotel in Washington D.C., otherwise the resorts established in areas now the suburbs of or near Ashville, North Carolina, in Buncombe County: Tryon and Skyland (Bonney Crest Inn); also  "Kendal." [sic] Sewanee. Tennessee (Franklin Co.); and Missionary Ridge, Chattanooga, Tennessee (see Oct. 9 [18]'98); also Falmouth in Stafford Co., Virginia at the falls on the north bank of the Rappahannock River north of and opposite the city of Fredericksburg (see letter Feb. 18, 1899).


 “I do not live in N. Carolina. We, my mother & I are nomads, we camp here &  there as we are tempted by the the climate or other special inducements.  Probably we shall winter considerably Southward.”  (letter: Aug. 31  [18]'97). 


Mary and her mother seemed to spend their winters (October to February) at the Congressional Hotel in Washington D. C., although the winter of 1900-1901 was spent in Tryon (letter of Oct. 29, 1900).


In the following letters, Wilson refers to the Blue Ridge and Cumberland Mountains. These mountains are collectively those of the Appalachians, specifically, at Skyland and Tryon, the Blue Ridge Mountains: the eastern and southeastern range of the Appalachians whose northern point occurs near Harpers Ferry in West Virginia, and extends southwest across western Virginia, western North Carolina into northern Georgia (Webster 1949). The Cumberland Mountains extend northeast to southwest, originating in southern West Virginia, trending to northeastern Alabama north of Birmingham. It extends along the border between the states of Kentucky and Virginia and also in eastern Tennessee, west of the Tennessee River (Webster 1949). It is from the Tennessee portion of the Cumberlands from which Mary writes. In her opinion or experience, the Blue Ridge had a better fungus flora than did the Cumberlands.


The Appalachian Mountains themselves extend south down eastern North America from Quebec, in Canada, down through the New England States of New Hampshire and Vermont, through New York and Pennsylvania, and trend southwest to northern Alabama, dividing in the south into the Blue Ridge and Cumberland Mountains (Webster 1949).


In the resort areas of the Blue Ridge: “The mountains of N. Carolina do more abound in them [edible and fine mushrooms] than the Cumberland Range, in my experience” (letter Oct. 9, 1898). 


Mountain fastnesses are everywhere a refuge and sanctuary for people who need to make a living in them. The mountains supported an enclave of the Scotch-Irish, a people associated with the border region between Scotland and England, an area noted for persistent and devastatingly regular attacks for centuries during border wars between those two countries. This was an endemic conflict that extended to their settlement in Northern Ireland and to those descendents that had settled the mountains of Appalachia. Appalachia is a region in the Appalachians stretching from southern New York State to Alabama, conspicuous for its endemic poverty. Mountains are also places of resort for the wealthy, where the sanatoriums associated with tuberculosis were often located. These resorts were refuges from pestilence and plagues in the lowlands and river valleys, particularly in summer, reminiscent of the experience in the British Empire in India when the cholera struck and people fled to the uplands to escape it, or centuries earlier in the fiction of Boccaccio’s Decameron (1351), which presented a group fleeing Florence during the spread of the Black Plague. Those that could not flee the lowlands and river basins tended to perish.


However, for Mary Wilson and her mother, there may have been elements of a fugitive nature to their wanderings.


People native to Appalachia must not be completely ignorant of the mountain’s productivity, hence a few local women of May Wilson’s acquaintance who found alternate ways of knowing edible fungi to the books written in the big cities by the leisure class (see letter of June 30 [18]98).  Economic downturns are the great levelers.


In her first more confident letter to Peck, Mary stated: “I am with some relatives of old Dr. Curtis - who are also enthusiastic mycologists in an amateurish way” (letter: August 13, 1897). These are the descendents of the southern mycologist Rev. Moses Ashley Curtis (1808-1872) of Hillsborough, North Carolina.


It is possible that Mary and her mother had only just returned from Europe in 1896 or 1897, when her correspondence began, when these two women were living in the Congressional Hotel in Washington, D. C. If so, then Mary quickly associated herself with the Mycological Club in that city.  Perhaps she was a friend of the Mrs. Fuller, in her first letter, before she left the United States, or had only perhaps recently made her acquaintance. It must have been stimulating to Mary to associate herself with the women of her correspondence to Peck, given her professional associations in her old Buffalo days that were probably the envy of women of her class. It is possible she pursued her advantages as George Clinton’s protégé in Buffalo at the same time as Peck. In those days Clinton and Peck named new species after her, as will be recounted in another essay in this series.


As the content of her letters suggests, she could be amused and challenged by the ability of women associated with the resorts where Mary and her mother resided in the years of her correspondence. Many of these women knew enough about mushrooms in the surrounding countryside, in the vicinity of the inns to provide non poisonous material for their tables. She could also be competitively challenged by the women she met in the Mycological Club in the nation’s capital. Wilson had an aggressiveness and an innate ability to succeed in new areas of taxonomy that the nation and the world now offered to men and women alike. Although she may have attributed a ‘happy instinct’ to the ability of some women to find edible mushrooms, Mary and her followers themselves were not immune to poisonous experiences in their quest for edible fungi.


There may as well have been a bitter poignancy associated with the sudden loss of a professional career that started with promise in Buffalo, which for some reason came to an abrupt end some fifteen years previously.


The eating of mushrooms was enjoyed by two classes of people: the lowest, who ‘lived off the land’ and were distant from markets, and the highest, who could afford these highly perishable and dangerous comestibles that had to be overseen by practitioners licensed usually through experiments on their own persons to select out the healthy species.


The poor were forced to eat these growths, but the rich could seek them out when their appetites were jaded by other meats. The association of fungi with decomposition and pagan images of woodland fairies, elves, pixies, toads, sprites only added to the relish, as did the professional or personal magic that made it possible to enjoy a luscious food and not die. The possibilities of forming an exclusive brother or sisterhood of knowledgeable mushroom-feasters that would periodically enter what old woodlands still exist and pluck the fungi erupting from the mossy carpets in the tepid and moist weather of spring, summer and fall, which gives forth the images of forbidden feasts.


As early as 1660, we are informed that “Aside from artichokes, asparagus, primeurs, and spinach, the diet of the rich includes few vegetables, but truffles, mushrooms, and foie gras are much esteemed,” (Trager 1995). Note that a “primeur” is a “baby” or early, and probably immature, fruit or vegetable, otherwise known as a ‘firstling.’ Trager also says that in 1809 “France has a boom in mushroom cultivation. The common white mushroom grown on “farms” in quarry tunnels near Paris brings variety to the local cuisine.” 


Something reminiscent of edible mushroom ‘cliques’ may be seen in edible-chestnut groups. In the case of the latter, significant effort is being made to recreate hardy nut-bearing trees, preferrably based on native American Chestnut stock, that resist the chestnut blight that has destroyed this tree that was once a large component of the forests of eastern North America. The flesh of swine that fed or were fed on the nuts of this chestnut was particularly succulent.


During the early 1890’s, and perhaps during the late 1880’s, perhaps before she went to Europe, and perhaps just after her departure from Buffalo, New York, Mary Wilson continued her floristic studies in lichens.


In 1880, the Champlain Society, “an association of college students formed for the purpose of field work and study in various branches of natural science, established its camp on the shores of Somes Sound at Wasgatt Cove, Mount Desert Island” in the State of Maine (Rand and Redfield, 1894). Two years later, John Redfield began an independent study into the botany of the area. Finally, in 1888, “the Champlain Society allowed its botanical work to pass into the hands of ... Edward L. Rand” with the result that in 1894 a flora of Mount Desert Island was published by the University Press, Cambridge [probably Harvard].


A number of noted botanists contributed to the determinations of these specimens, many of whom were correspondents of George Clinton. In the section on Lichens, a list was made by Dr. John W. Eckfeldt based on the collections and determinations of and by himself, Miss Mary L. Wilson and Miss Clara E. Cummings. Many of the species on the lists of lichens were contributed by Mary Wilson, collected especially at Seal Harbor.


Miss Cummings was a teacher at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, beginning in 1876, and her first published paper, in 1885, was a “Catalogue of the Musci and Hepaticae of North America, north of Mexico” (Fink 1907). Although Fink suggested Cummings worked on lists of lichens later published by other authors, in the bibliography of her work compiled by Fink after her death, her contribution to the lichens of the Mount Desert flora is not listed. Although Cummings began her career as a student of mosses and liverworts, by 1884 she was issuing exsiccati of lichens from New England. Cummings wrote three papers under her own name, “all published during the last five years of her life” (Fink 1907).


Miss Wilson, in her Buffalo days, corresponded, as did George Clinton, with Charles Mohr regarding the plants of Alabama (see letter of Oct. 29, 1900 below). At that time she worked on Mohr’s lichens from Alabama. When the monumental volume of Mohr’s botanical work appeared in 1901, in the section concerning lichens he wrote:


“The lichens collected by the writer [Mohr] in Mobile and Baldwin counties (early in the seventies) have identified [sic] by Mr. Henry Willey of New Bedford and Miss Maria Wilson, and the collections made in later years in the different parts of the State have been examined by Miss Clara E. Cummings of Wellesley College, who has also kindly undertaken the revision of the catalogue of Alabama lichens, for which assistance the writer expresses here his thanks.” (Mohr 1901).”


Fink (1907) attributed the entire section on Alabama lichens to Cummings as noted in his bibliography of her works:


    “Cummings, Clara E., in Mohr, Charles. Plant Life of Alabama, Cont. U. S.

     Nat. Herb. 6:1-921. A list of 225 species and varieties of lichens with

     notes on distribution, pp. 267-283.”



Hard Times


Mary Wilson’s letters, where she suggests that the food supply of ordinary people in the south might be enhanced by knowledge of the foods growing freely in American woodlands, does not reveal the acute nature of the state of the economies of Europe and North America during the period of her correspondence with Charles Peck.


The final decade of the nineteenth century was characterized by a major business contraction in the United States and Europe. In an article posted on-line entitled “The Depression of 1893” posted Monday, 2010-02-01 by “Anonymous” and introduced by David O. Whitten of Auburn University, Auburn wrote that “The Depression of 1893 was one of the worst in American history with the unemployment rate exceeding ten percent for half a decade.”


Peck, working as State Botanist in Albany, New York, must have been personally aware of the suffering of the population in New York City, then, as now, the financial center of the United States. Perhaps he was sensitive to the fact that his position as New York State Botanist and his institution, the New York State Museum, was dependent on the tax revenue of the citizens of the State. His professional position had been in jeopardy from the New York State Legislature more than once since its inception during the 1860’s. The association of the New York State Herbarium with the museum of the State Agricultural Society and the commitment of that body to the agricultural productivity of the State seems to have persisted in Peck’s mind, as opposed a to purely taxonomic professional commitment. Hence, the production of manuscripts specifically designed to instruct the citizens of the State and elsewhere in the identification of edible and poisonous mushrooms and access to this additional range of native foodstuffs.


In 1897, the Cambridge Botanical Supply Company published a reprint of an 80 page booklet written by Peck one year after the financial collapse of 1983 (i.e. 1894). The title of the publication was “Mushrooms and their use”.


Peck in his introduction wrote that:


  “The times seem auspicious for such an undertaking [i.e. to educate the public], for with much depression in financial and business circles, with lack of employment and the reduction in wages, now taking place, anything that promises to cheapen the cost of living or add to the means of subsistence of the unemployed or of those employed on short time or at low wages, must possess a peculiar interest. “Hard times” may now and then compel us to look into Nature’s bountiful storehouse for a supplementary supply of food. And Nature, almost always lavish in her gifts, has indeed provided a bountiful supply, which in this country has been greatly overlooked and almost entirely neglected until very recent years.”


Peck informs us that mushrooms are nutritious. Chemical analysis indicates that “they contain in their dry matter from 20 to 50 per cent. of protein or nitrogenous material, and they may therefore be called a vegetable meat and be used as a substitute for animal food.”


Peck assures his readers “They are not used by the poorer classes of people exclusively, for the wealthy and the nobility are apparently as fond of them as any other class. They are served at the tables of the hotels and on great occasions.”


In the United States (perhaps in Albany, New York) the price of common or cultivated mushrooms was high: “usually fifty cents to a dollar a pound.” The price “excludes it from the tables of the poor who live in cities or where they are unable to gather it in a wild state.”  Species other than the commercial ones, however, abounded in New York State, growing wild and allowed to rot in the ground, were only enough information available for the poor to go into the countryside to collect them in the season of their fructification.


Peck’s reference to “Hard times” is probably a reference to the name of Charles Dickens’ tenth novel, which richly displays elements of poverty, industrialism, and the limitations of the Industrial Revolution during the 1850’s (the book was first published in 1854). It portrayed particularly the poverty of a social philosophy promoted by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, called Utilitarianism, the most radical elements of which Dickens, with his personal experience of horrific working conditions, opposed (“Hard Times” Wikipedia, Oct. 2010).


Mary Wilson’s civic conscience may have been piqued in Europe, which just before the depression of 1893 in the United States, the depression of 1889 struck France, with an associated degradation of business in 1890 in Germany and England. England experienced a financial panic in November of that year (Whitten 2010). Mary and her mother may have had to return to the United States due to an irreparable loss of the basis for their wealth, with European investors catastrophically selling off American securities, and American investors selling off their European ones, leading to a crisis in gold and silver specie in the United States from 1892 to 1896 (Whitten 2010).


Of course, the financial panic of 1893 affected the top of the economic order, but years before that year, the agricultural community had suffered its own crisis in 1887 when a bubble based on strong farm commodity prices burst, together with “Three successive droughts, a series of severe winters, disastrously low wheat and corn prices and accelerating deflation” which resulted in “bankruptcies and grinding mortgage levels for seemingly countless farmers and townspeople” (Grant, 1983).


It also became politically expedient to propose a means of providing “food for the masses” as an extension of progressivism and populism gaining traction in the midwest and southern states during the late 1880’s and during the decade of 1890. The City of Rochester, New York, and New York City itself through administrative agencies such as the Office of the Overseer of the Poor in Rochester and the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor in New York promoted urban gardening to employ men out of work, and also to grow produce for distribution to the needy. The idea of such public gardening, effected by individuals on donated land from donated seed, spread throughout the United States during this depression. This idea evolved from Hazen S. Pingree, major of the City of Detroit, who implemented the “potato patch” expression of public or community gardening to employ and serve those impoverished in Detroit.


By this time, the new professional class was relied upon to give expertise to these popular gardening efforts to maximize their productivity and minimize failure, which could result in starvation. For example, in Detroit “A salaried foreman supervised planting, although many participants had previous gardening experience as ex-farmers from Europe. Experts from the local D. M. Ferry Seed Company, the Michigan Agricultural College at  East Lansing, and the engineering staff of the Detroit Water Board also assisted” (Grant 1983).


Charles Peck provided the service of expertise in mycology as the New York State Botanist, with Mary Wilson as a kind of protégé, using her previous expertise in the taxonomy of lichens to understand the rather technical literature produced by Peck and help her colleagues mentioned in her letters develop the expertise necessary to make fungi a legitimate source of food for those suffering from the collapse of capitalism, or its non existence in certain areas of the country.


NOTE: When Mary Wilson spelled out a scientific (Latin) name, that is, a binomial name for a fungus, or wrote out the generic name, she underlined them in her letter. In print, such names are printed in italics. When written by hand, they are underlined.




I would like to thank Richard Mitchell and John Haines for my initial introduction to the letters written by Mary Wilson to Charles Peck some years ago. I am very grateful to Norton Miller and Lorinda Leonardi for arranging for my renewed visits to the New York State Museum in Albany, new York, and preparing permission forms and authorization for on-line publication of Miss Wilson’s letters to Peck.


I would like to thank John Grehan, Director of Science and Collections, Buffalo Museum of Science, Buffalo, New York and Kathy Leacock, Research Librarian,  for their continued support and assistance for editing the correspondence of George Clinton, archived in the Museum’s Research Library.




Arora, David. 1986. Mushrooms demystified: a comprehensive guide to the fleshy Fungi. Ten Speed Press. Berkeley, California.


Bold, Harold C. 1973. Morphology of Plants, ed. 3 Harper & Row. New York.


Fink, Bruce. 1907. A Memoir of Clara E. Cummings. The Bryologist Vol. X(3): 37-41.


French, J. H. 1860. Historical and Statistical Gazetteer of the State of New York. Pearsall Smith, 8 Sth. Salina Street, Syracuse. Heart of the Lakes Publishing, reprint 1977. Interlaken, New York 14847.


Grant, H. Roger 1983. Self-help in the 1890s Depression. The Iowa State University Press. Ames, Iowa.


Hoerr, Normand L., M.D. and Arthus Osol, Ph.D. 1960. Blakiston’s Illustrated Pocket Medical Dictionary, ed. 2. The Blakiston division of McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York.


Honegger, Rosmarie. 2000. Simon Schwendener (1829-1919) and the Dual Hypothesis of Lichens. Bryologist 1-3: 307-313.


Krieger, Louis C. C. 1967. The Mushroom Handbook. Dover Publications, Inc. New York


Mohr, Charles: 1901. U.S. Dept. Agriculture. Division of Botany. Contributions from the U.S.National Herbarium. Vol. VI. Issued July 31, 1901. Plant Life of Alabama. Prepared in cooperation with the Geological Survey of Alabama by Charles Mohr, Ph.D. washington: Government Printing Office. 1901.


Palmer Jr., Julius Aboineau (1840-1899). 1885. Mushrooms of America, edible and poisonous. published by L. Prang & Company, Boston. [The digitized verson I have seen has 12 plates with a four page introduction].


Peck, Charles Horton, 1895 Edible and Poisonous Fungi of New York. New York State Museum Report 48:105-241. Pl. A., and colored plates 1-43. [2nd edition 1897. “For the continuation of this paper, see Peck, ‘00a and succeeding bulletins” (Krieger 1967).


Peck, Charles Horton. 1897. Mushrooms and their use. Cambridge Botanical Supply. Cambridge, Mass. published, according to the title page, when Peck was “State Botanist of New York.” “Reprinted by permission from the Cultivator and Country Gentleman of Albany, New York, May 31, 1894.” “Illustrated by 32 Cuts loaned by the publishers of that journal.” May 1987. 80 pages. 50 cents at date of publication.


Peck, C. H. 1900. Report of the State Botanist on Edible Fungi of New York, 1895-1899. New York State Museum Mem.  3 ( 4): 131-234. Colored plates 44-68.


Rand, Edward L. and John H. Redfield. 1894. Flora of Mount Desert Island, Maine. A preliminary catalogue of the plants growing on Mount Desert and the adjacent islands. Cambridge. John Wilson and Son. University Press. Cambridge [Massachusetts]. This curious citation makes it ambiguous whether this is Cambridge University Press or that of Harvard University.


Simon Schwendener 1869. "Die Flechten als Parasiten der Algen" (The lichens as parasites of algae) in Verhandlungen der Nauturforschenden Gesellschaft in Basel 5:4 pp. 527 - 550.


Thomas, J., M.D. and T. Baldwin. 1855. A Complete Pronouncing Gazetteer, or Geographical Dictionary, of the World. J. B. Lippincott & Co. Philadelphia.

[Lippincott’s Pronouncing Gazetteer].


Trager, James. 1995. The Food Chronology. A Food Lover’s Compendium of Events   and Anecdotes, from Prehistory to the Present. Henry Holt and Company. New York.


Webster. 1949. Webster’s Geographical Dictionary. G. & C. Merriam Co., Publishers, Springfield, Mass.


Whitten, David O. (Auburn University). 2010. “The Depression of 1893” posted on-line 2010-02-01 (sic) by Anonymous.


Wolf, Connie. 1998. Annotation: the Newsletter of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission Vol. 26:4 (approx. three pages).




Charles Horton Peck Papers in the Mycology Collection of the New York State Museum, Albany, New York


This archive at the New York State Museum includes the correspondence of Charles H. Peck (1833-1917). A short biography and photograph of Peck is at or


The letters of Mary L. Wilson to Peck are transcribed and the transcription presented here through the courtesy of the New York State Museum, Albany, New York .




1. [no date; probably 1897]


The Congressional Hotel


Washington D. C.


Mr. Peck,


Dear Sir: I learn from Mrs. Fuller of the Mycological Club here that a Report of the Botanist of the N. Y. University is just out with plates of Mushrooms. I should be  very glad to obtain a copy - would you do me the favor to let me know the price of the Reports - and also if a considerable number of copies - 3 or 4 - can be obtained by friends of mine.


Yours very truly


Mary L. Wilson


Editor’s note (centered through the remainder):  I have placed this letter first in the correspondence sequence. There is no date, but the tone lacks the intimacy of all the other (subsequent?) letters. I am presuming that Miss. Wilson has written this note to discover Mr. Peck’s reaction to it, that is, to see whether he would choose to respond or not, perhaps to see whether Mr. Peck remembers her name and what his attitude might be toward it. As the subsequent letter indicates, Peck replied in a reassuring tone.


The “Report of the Botanist of the N.Y. University” is part of a series of relatively obscure government publications that constitute reports to the New York State Legislature by the “Regents of the University of the State of New York.” For example, the title page of one of these publications reads:


“No. 120 In Assembly, February 7, 1880, Thirty-third Annual Report of the State Museum of Natural History by the Regents of the University of the State of New York” submitted to the Speaker of the Assembly the Hon. George H. Sharpe by Erastus C. Benedict, Chancellor of the University.


If this was the 33d annual report, then such reports, if annual, would have stretched back to around 1847. There were other departments of the State Museum of Natural History that submitted reports, the most world-famous of which was the Department of Geology under the geologist James Hall.


Another series of New York State publications includes the “New York State Museum Bulletin” series.


The Peck publication to which Mary Wilson refers, is contained in one of these Annual Reports:


Peck, Charles Horton, 1895 Edible and Poisonous Fungi of New York. New York State Museum Report 48:105-241. Pl. A., and colored plates 1-43. [2nd edition 1897. “For the continuation of this paper, see Peck, ‘00a and succeeding bulletins” (Krieger 1967).


Presumably, Mary is referring to the second edition issued in 1897, which would date the year of this introductory letter. Krieger’s bibliographic reference to ‘1900’ refers to the following citation and subsequent publication:


Peck, C. H. 1900. Report of the State Botanist on Edible Fungi of New York, 1895-1899. New York State Museum Mem. 3(4): 131-234. Colored plates 44-68.


The Mycological Club of Washington D.C. of 1897 may be the antecedent of the present Mycological Association of Washington D.C., an affiliate, according to its present website, of the North American Mycological Association.


As I have had some experience taxonomically with a group other than the fungi (that is, bryology, or mosses and liverworts), the emphasis in the home page of the Mycological Association of ‘reliability’ of identification seemed curious, as reliability of identification is at the very basis of taxonomy. Curiouser still, however, is the sudden emphasis in the website on eating the subject of the taxonomy. Mosses and liverworts, although having various practical uses beyond their beauty in the field and interest in, say, evolution, do not usually require precision in identification for them to be used.


It appears that even more than issues of identification, these mycologists are above all eager to get identifications out of the way, and to put the subjects of their study straight into the pot (perhaps with some butter).


In nearly every mycological book I have seen, there is usually, if not nearly always, guidance in avoiding eating the toadstools, as poisonous fungi are called in casual contexts. Mushrooms, often used for edible fungi, are unusual in the glory of their taste, something not often said of vascular plants in general, excepting the horticultural sorts, and no mosses and liverworts at all.


As with most other exquisite bodies, mushrooms are quite able to defend themselves with the most exquisite sorts of death-producing toxins as well (see below), resulting in some of the most virulent, fatal, hallucinatory, mind-wasting consequences once consumed, not only for the general public, but covering the whole spectrum of individual susceptibility to their chemical nature.


Reliability in identification, then, seen in a mycological context, is above all directed at the comestibility of the fungal body under consideration. The reader will note that the question of whether or not a given fungus can be relished without paying with one’s life forms the content of several of Miss. Wilson’s correspondence with Mr. Peck.




[August 13, 1897  both this and the next are on the same stationery]


Mr. Peck


Dear Sir:


You may possibly recall my name as an early correspondent when you were collecting the lichens - sixteen or  seventeen years ago - when Judge Clinton opened so many opportunities for amateur botanists in Buffalo! I am taking my old privilege of writing to you again to make a few inquiries - if I may still do so. First of all I wish to express the pleasure I am having in using the magnificent report from you for 1896 published by the University of the State of New York. I am with some relatives of old Dr. Curtis - who are also enthusiastic mycologists in an amateurish way: they too are delighted to see your work. We are using it daily here, it supplies a want we have much felt - I am now led to ask you if there are any N. Y. State reports of the years past which could aid us in collecting the edible & poisonous mushrooms.


I find myself able to be of a little service to the country people here abouts - who want to avail themselves of the rich harvests of fungi that these mountains yield. I am taking the liberty also of sending you by mail two species which are common here, which we cannot decide upon. One, the orange colored resembles the Amanita caesaria which is common here, but which is not it - tho' it seems to be an Amanitopsis. The other warty specimen seems safe - but I dare not decide it. A residence of over five years in Europe has revealed to me the value of our great natural food supplies.


I am desirous to teach as many of the poor people here of the safe species as are ready to learn. Hoping that I am not asking to much in my inquiries -  


 I remain 


Yours truly


Mary L. Wilson


[under signature]


Bonney Crest Inn


Skyland. N. Carolina


Aug. 13 [18]'97  [end of letter] 


Note Mary’s use of English (vs. American) orthography as in "colour" "grey" (not gray) and so forth signals her sojourn in Europe for five years. 


From one of the early books on edible and poisonous fungi (Palmer, 1885): “The most important advice to the student is to learn to recognize the Amanita family, and to avoid them all ...”. Naturally, this is the family that captures most the fancy of those that eat mushrooms.


Amanita caesarea (Scop.) Pers., Caesar’s Mushroom, is a mushroom native to southern Europe and northern Africa with an orange cap, yellow gills and stem. It does not grow in North America, but there are similar species here, such as A. arkansana and A. jacksonii (Wikipedia post Oct. 10, 2010).


Having written this, Orson K. Miller, Jr. (1977 Mushrooms of North America. E. P. Dutton, New York) writes on pp. 28-9 that this species occurs in hardwood forests in summer with a broad distribution in the Pacific Southwest, the Southern states, Northeastern states, the Central states and adjacent Canada. It is a large, distinctive Mushroom with a bright orange, viscid, wartless or smooth cap. This colorful mushroom arises from a white saclike volva which looks like a white cup at the base of the stalk up out of which the cap and its stalk arise. Miller as author does not recommend it for the pot since there are other, similar species in the genus Amanita as the Wikipedia article indicates, and their edibility is unknown.


In fact, Miller states that “I would not recommend eating Amanitas for any amateur mushroom collector.” (p. 28).


The genus Amanitopsis is an old name for species in the genus Amanita that have no ring (annulus) on the stem, which is the remains of the partial veil still clinging to the stem. The universal veil is a tissue out of which the above-ground part of the mushroom emerges and is at the base of the stalk. The partial veil is associated with the cap (pileus) and is a covering extending from the unopened margin of the cap (in young stages of mushroom elongation) to the stalk and covers or protects the young gills as they develop under the cap. The ring is the remnant of this tissue.


Skyland is now one of the suburbs of Asheville. In 1855 Asheville was described as “a flourishing post-village, capital of Buncombe co., North Carolina, is situated on the Buncombe Turnpike, 1 1/2 miles E. of the French Broad River, and 255 miles W. of Raleigh. It is on the route of the Western Turnpike, which is now in process of construction from the S.W. extremity of the state to Salisbury. It contains a bank, an academy, 2 newspaper offices, and several churches. Pop. about 1000. The site of Asheville is ascertained to be 2200 feet above the level of the sea.” (Thomas & Baldwin 1855). Tryon was “a post-office of Rutherford co., North Carolina.” Tryon is a “Town and resort, Polk co., SW North Carolina, in Blue Ridge on South Carolina border 32 miles SE of Asheville, pop. 2043; center of hand-weaving, toymaking, and woodcarving industries” Webster 1949).


There is no reference to Skyland in 1855 (Thomas & Baldwin 1855) or 1949 (Webster 1949).



[one sheet, folded, four pages] 


Bonny Crest Inn. Skyland. N. C.


Aug. 31 [18]'97 


Dear Mr. Peck:


Your letter & the Cambridge publication of your article on Mushrooms have both given me much pleasure.


I almost forget how many years have flown since Judge Clinton used to bring in heaps of Fungi & Lichens and with them your letters & reports to him. I have never indeed lost my interest in the botanical subjects altho' other matters have put in the background my taste for natural history. 


I have been interested in comparing your list of edible fungi - so far as reported - with ours here. A lady of this house has been collecting and testing herself many forms of mushrooms, and she has literally supplied the Inn table: she has never had an unfavorable experience: some happy instinct has seemed to guide her.


There is one Amanita which was abundant here in July which we have never found described or mentioned in any of the several works that we have access to.


It is in appearance much like the Amanitopsis vaginatus [underlined] of your work, but much larger & heavier, its  striations on the margin of the pileus are more distinct and its color is usually brown at the centre - it is excellent cooked as one would make an oyster stew, and it has a delicate oyster flavour.


It is not to be found now, indeed there is at present a complete dearth of almost all mushroom growths.


If this Amanita appears again, I will prepare some specimens for you. We give it first rank in edible qualities, and it is abundant often. 


With regard to the specimens which I sent you - the orange coloured one was frequent here and there never in groups. I will observe the character of the spring specimens when I have the chance. The other sent by me we believed was A. strobiliformis [underlined], but it was pure white. While all of the descriptions make that mushroom coloured. It was undoubtedly an Amanita [underlined] with the large bulbous base & ring on the stem.  


I observe that you speak of but one [written above:] "edible" Russula [underlined]. - the green spotted one. We use four species here, the purple cap, the crimson & the orange. The autumn will bring me many good things undoubtedly. I shall be pleased to send you whatever may seem worth sending. 


I do not live in N. Carolina. We, my mother & I are nomads, we camp here & there as we are tempted by the climate or other special inducements. Probably we shall winter considerably Southward. 


With many thanks for your pamphlet on the mushrooms.


Yours truly


Mary L. Wilson.


Peck has sent a copy of his 80-page ‘pamphlet’ on edible and poisonous mushrooms (discussed below) together with a letter in which he apparently expressed his remembrance of her name and her association with George Clinton (see introduction). During the 1860’s and 1870’s both were protégés  of Clinton when he (and Mary) both resided in Buffalo, New York and Peck named several species of fungi after Mary based on collections she had made and which Clinton had sent to Peck to identify.


On mushroom collecting as a vocation, see note end of June 30, 1898 below.


Amanitopsis vaginata is a synonym of Amanita vaginata (Fr.) Vitt., a common, nonpoisonous mushroom without a ring (as discussed in the previous letter) but, as in Amanita caesarea, also arises from a saclike white volva. It emerges from the soil under hardwoods and conifers in the spring, summer and early fall, and is widely distributed (Miller 1977). Miller indicates that “Mr. Andrew Norman of New York and some of his friends eat this Amanita and report that it has excellent flavor.”


Russula is one of the two genera in the Russulaceae, the Milk Mushrooms (the other genus is Lactarius). The ‘milk’ is in reference to a latex exuded from the cut tissues of Lactarius species; bruised Russula species have color changes in the tissues when cut or bruised and species of both genera may be identified by these characteristic color changes. Species of Russula often have brightly colored caps in strong contrast to the white or whitish flesh, gills and stalk.


“Having once learned to identify it [i.e. the genus Russula] without danger of error, this family is quite safe for use as food; for all the non-esculent Russulas are hot or nauseous to the taste, which the edible ones are very nutty and pleasant. The student should, therefore, taste each specimen when preparing them for cooking.” (Palmer 1885 p. 4).


Amanita strobiliformis (Paulet ex Vattad.) Bertill. is a large white Amanita with a thick, white bulblike stalk that can weight up to a pound. General accounts are (cf. Wikipedia 2010) that it is a nice one to eat. The pileus or cap at first is covered with white warts. It is ectomycorrhizal, associated with the living tree roots of Birch (genus Betula) and other trees and shrubs.


Peck, Charles Horton. 1897. Mushrooms and their use. Cambridge Botanical Supply. Cambridge, Mass. published, according to the title page, when Peck was “State Botanist of New York.” “Reprinted by permission from the Cultivator and Country Gentleman of Albany, New York, May 31, 1894.” “Illustrated by 32 Cuts loaned by the publishers of that journal.” May 1987. 80 pages. 50 cents at publication. 


According to French’s 1860 Gazetteer of New York State, The Cultivator, whose first issue came about in 1839 by Jesse Buel, “was afterward published by W. Gaylord and L. Tucker, and now by L. Tucker & Son.” The Country Gentleman was “started by J. J. Thomas and L. & L. H. Tucker in 1853, is now published by L. Tucker & Son.” Apparently in the years leading up to 1897, the two publications were joined, especially as they both enjoyed the same publisher, probably after Tucker Sr.’s death.


Peck also tells us that a toadstool is of the poisonous variety of fungus, a mushroom not poisonous.   Edible mushrooms belong to the Gasteromycetes, Discomycetes, and Hymenomycetes.


As early as 1660, we are informed that “Aside from artichokes, asparagus, primeurs, and spinach, the diet of the rich includes few vegetables, but truffles, mushrooms, and foie gras are much esteemed,” (Trager 1995). Trager also says that in 1809 “France has a boom in mushroom cultivation. The common white mushroom grown on “farms” in quarry tunnels near Paris brings variety to the local cuisine.”  ...




"Kendal." [sic] Sewanee. Tenn.  [Franklin Co.]


June 30 [18]98.


Dear Mr. Peck:


Would you be so kind as to inform me if I could obtain another copy of the Regents' Report issued last year upon Edible Fungi?  if I can not now obtain it is there any prospect of my being able to do so in the course of some months? I am making these inquiries of you rather than of the Librarian for I wish to make a little communication with reference to the so-called poisonous Amanitas. Two ladies here whom I know collect & eat the Amanita muscaria & phalloides - such as are figured in Palmer's plates of the Mushrooms of America - certainly they experience no ill effects; I have seen these mushrooms collected by them. Another lady whom I know has tested upon herself [written above:] "by eating them" over 50 species [written above:] "of agarics" and has not yet been poisoned!


I shall hope to find more of the yellow species in these Cumberland mountains, such as you desired last year. The appreciation of agarics certainly gains here. Could many of the country people of the Southern states learn to use them safely a great gain might be made for the variety not only of their monotonous and limited diet, but in the validation of their interests in nature - 


Yours truly


Mary L. Wilson


I would bespeak a copy of the Vol. of the Regents Report referred to if it shall soon appear but I would wish to know in advance its prospective cost.



There is no reference to a town “Sewanee” in the 1855 Gazetteer of Thomas & Baldwin 1855. However, in 1949, Sewanee is reported to be a “Village and summer resort, Franklin co., S Tennessee, about 38 miles NW of Chattanooga; pop. 1685; sandstone quarries nearby. University of the South (1857; men).” (Webster’s 1949).


Note that the word “agaric” used as a noun, other than referring to mushrooms with gills in general, may often specifically refer to and bring to mind the common grocery store mushroom: Agaricus campestris, or Agaricus arvensis. Palmer (1885) said “It [A. campestris] grows in open pastures, lanes or roadsides; never in forests.” The Agaricus arvensis, however, with a stronger flavor, “grows on banks, street-sweepings and in hot houses.” The cultivated mushrooms (A. arvensis) are often so dirty as to require both washing and peeling.”


The “so-called poisonous Amanitas” include species with gruesome toxicity. Miller (1977) includes species of the genus Amanita in three of his six groups of toxins:


Group I. Phallotoxins and amatoxins, possessed by Amanita verna, A. virosa, A. phalloides among others. They are said to be tasty mushrooms when first ingested. Their effects may arise several hours later when their toxins are converted in the liver “into a compound which begins to attack liver cells. Only then, when it would no longer help to pump out the stomach, does the victim suffer extreme pain, profuse vomiting, lethargy, and distorted vision. After a time, the victim may feel better for a while, only to have the severe pain return, lasting four to six days. If the consumer does not eventually die, after weeks of illness, he or she may survive, but with permanent damage to the liver.


Amanita phalloides (Vaill. ex Fr.) Link, the Death Cap or Destroying Angel, is considered to be one of the most poisonous of all known mushrooms, damaging the liver and kidneys, often causing death. It is said this mushroom has been implicated in the deaths of the Roman Emperor Claudius and Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI (Wikipedia post Oct. 10, 2010). Within the genus Amanita, this species is the type of the section Phalloideae that contains all the deadly poisonous Amanita species thus far identified, such as A. virosa and A. bisporiga and A. verna (the Fool’s Mushroom).


Clearly, the white Amanita of Wilson’s acquaintance must be some other toadstool than A. phalloides and Palmer’s figures in his Mushrooms of America.


The little pamphlet written by Palmer Jr., Julius Aboineau (1840-1899). 1885. Mushrooms of America, edible and poisonous, and published by L. Prang & Company, Boston, has only four pages of introduction succeeded by 12 colored plates of mushrooms, some briefly annotated with pertinent information on identification and preparation as food. This book was intended by the author for popular use “rather than for students of botanical science.”  Palmer wrote that there were over 1,000 species of fungi known for the United States at the time he produced his book, but he was going to detail only the Puff-balls (Lycoperdaceae), the Gill-bearing fungi (Agaricini) and the Pore-bearing fungi (Boleti), a group of very conspicuous growths with notable edible species.


The general word ‘agarics’ must refer to fungi that have gills, neither of which occur among the Puff-balls or Pore-bearing species.


“The fungus-eaters form a little clique in England, but the majority of her people know nothing of this gratuitous offering from Nature’s storehouse. No country is richer in mushroom food than America. Were the poorer classes of Russia, Germany, Italy or France to see our forests during the autumn rains, they would feast on the rich food there going to waste. For this harvest is spontaneous, it requires no seed-time, and asks for no peasant’s time. At the same time, the economic value of mushroom diet ranks second to meat alone. With bread and mushrooms properly gathered and prepared, a person may neglect the butcher during the summer months. This is self evident to the unscientific mind by the simple facts that mushrooms make the same use of the air we breathe as is made by animals, that cooked they resemble no form of vegetable food, and that in decay their odor in some cases cannot be distinguished from putrid meat. To this feast, abundantly provided by Nature for the poorest as well as the most epicurean, we invite the American people.” (Palmer, 1885, p. 2).


Note that Palmer expressly singles out species of the genus Amanita as representing the most toxic of all mushrooms.


- “such as are figured in Palmer's plates of the Mushrooms of America.”


The following plates depict edible fungi:


Plate 1: Agaricus campestris; A arvensis plus description, taste, how to cook, roast; II Coprinus comatus; III Marasmius oreades; IV. Agaricus cretaceus, the Chalk Mushroom; V Agaricus procerus, the Parasol Mushroom; VI edible Russulas: R. heterophylla; R. virescens; R. lepida; R. alutacea; VII Boleti: B. bovinus, B. edulis, B. scaber, B. subtomentosus, B. chrysenteron, B. strobilaceus; VIII Lycoperdaceae: Puff-balls: L. giganteum, L. saccatum, L. gemmatum.


The following depict poisonous fungi:


Plate IX: Agaricus (Amanita) vernus, Poisonous White Mushroom; X. Poisonous Mushrooms of the genus Amanita: A. muscarius; A. phalloides: A. mappa.; XI. Poisonous or suspicious Boleti: B. felleus, B. alveolatus, B. luridus.

XIII Poisonous or False Champignons: Agaricus (Naucoria) semi-orbiculatus; A. (Stropharia) Semi-globatus; A. (Naucoria) pediades.


The Amanita muscaria (L.:Fr.) Lam. is called the Fly Agaric in a translation of the epithet (‘of flies’). It has a deep red cap with white spots or warts scattered over its surface. It seems to be edible when cooked and is hallucinogenic (psychoactive), probably when raw. It may be abundant under conifers and hardwoods in spring, summer and fall. Through its associated with Pine plantations, the species has been introduced to many countries in the Southern Hemisphere and is presently considered to be a cosmopolitan species. This is a species whose toxicity may be variable in different areas of its growth, with races with more or less of its toxins (Miller 1977).


This species belongs to two of Miller’s groups of toxins:


Group II: muscarine, and Group II, Muscimol and related compounds (note that the chemical name of both toxins derives from the epithet of Amanita muscaria). Both toxins affect the central and parasympathetic nervous systems. The toxin muscarine, which results in retardating of heart function, dilation of blood vessels and pupil constriction of the eyes, symptoms reversed by the application of atropine, are not considered serious and the toxicity due to this compound is “now largely discounted” - a welcome determination for those interested in ingesting this mushroom.


The other toxin of Amanita muscaria, muscimol, although resulting in hallucinogenic symptoms, is also, apparently, bearable and so not a barrier to ingestion of this fungus (Miller 1977). Other Amanitas possessing this and related compounds include Amanita pantherina, A. solitaria, A. porphyria, A. citrina (Miller 1977).


Finding the exact degree of tolerance among these colorful and otherwise spectacular growths has been and still is an essential element in not only liberating the average citizen of the Cumberland and Blue Ridge Mountains to broaden the diet, but also may provide a livelihood to those who can safely identify edible material to sell to, for example, restaurants - if only this food can get to the table before it decays.


Such employment is enjoyed by at least one of Mary Wilson’s acquaintance who has learned her expertise the hard way with the result that she may provide mushrooms for her clients, the restaurants of Skyland, particularly the Bonny Crest Inn of August 31, above:


 “A lady of this house has been collecting and testing herself many forms of mushrooms, and she has literally supplied the Inn table: she has never had an unfavorable experience: some happy instinct has seemed to guide her.”




Sewanee. Tenn. Aug. 15 [18]98. 


Dear Mr. Peck:


I was sorry to know that my little packet of mushrooms went astray for I cannot well duplicate them now. 


I have collected two other pretty things quite often which look good enough to eat:


they are so attractive that I must know more of them if possible. #3 seems to be a Lepiota: [underline] it grows out of the sides of old stumps: its first appearance when the gills are perfectly white is very delicate & beautiful - Is it edible? 


#4 is common on our lawn & in the woods also: it grows in clusters sometimes: it seems to be an Amanitopsis [underline]:  the volvas or sheath at the base has never been seen, tho' I have gone down in the ground 2 inches for it. The stipe is very long & stout in proportion to the cap: the cap remained  close down at the sides for some time after it is out of the ground and seems to have difficulty in expanding it is so  contracted; it looks when it at last expands and the split portions have a way of bending back as if they were  petals of a rose, its colour is tawny yellow on top: flesh very white & firm - it has a very clear & good appearance.


In the woods I have found another of similar appearance - but having a volva (no ring or veil) the volva very conspicuous above ground - but this one is pale yellow: it too looks very good - I have no facilities for drying my specimens as we are not housekeeping: a fire in ones room is out of question here. We have had damp & muggy weather & dreary rains for many weeks now, and almost everything that I have succeeded in preserving has moulded badly. 


Many people come to me here for instructions about mushrooms. I have been able to be of some service - but not so much as I wish to be - I shall be much obliged in the names of the two I enclose in my envelope.


Yours truly


Mary L. Wilson  


The volva “more or less enclosing the young plant, and remaining at the base of the older specimen so that when the mushroom is pulled up a socket is left in the ground.” (Palmer 1885 p. 3). The volva, together with the ring and warty excrescences on the cap and the three characteristics of the genus Amanita. The volva is the “sheath or wrapper enclosing the young mushroom when below or just above the ground; the remains of which are found in the ring, the veil, at the base of the stem, and in the warty or scurfy top of some varieties of mushrooms.” (Palmer 1885 p.2).


Note that the reason so much attention is paid to the larger mushrooms is that they are conspicuous, their technical features are manifest and, above all, they quickly provide a meal, compared to the smaller species.



Missionary Ridge


Chattanooga, Tenn.


Oct. 9 [18]'98 


Mr. Chas. H. Peck:


Dear Sir: Would you be so kind as to let me make some inquiries of you concerning the recent literature on Lichens. It is years now since I have had access to the subject. What I mainly need now to know is this,


Is the Schwendener theory - as it was called- still regarded as tenable? Schwendener affirmed that he had produced the lichen by the union of the [written above:] "spores of the" algae & the fungi. I have an article to write which makes me need to know how this theory is now regarded. I should be much obliged for a few words about it. 


I am about going to Washington for a prolonged visit; if I could know what works to look for, and when to seek them I could perhaps help myself. I suppose the Smithsonian Institute has a department for cryptogamic botany? I have made several followers in the pursuit of mushrooms this past season. Here on Missionary Ridge I find the few, but the species are nearly all edible & fine. The mountains of N. Carolina do more abound in them than the Cumberland Range, in my experience. 


A heavy Lepiota is common here, its species name I do not know. Your writings have been much loaned & made use of, and in a superficial way there has been much enthusiasm on the subject in Sewanee.


I should be thankful for a reply to these inquiries soon. My address will be to the Congressional Hotel Washington D. C.


Very respectfully yours


Mary L. Wilson 


[end of letter]


[See end of the letter of June 23, 1900 below for a loose sheet that I had at first thought went with this letter, Oct. 9 [18]'98, but has different paper similar to the letter of June 23. 


The ‘heavy Lepiota’ will be discussed in the next letter.


Missionary Ridge is not listed in the 1855 Gazetteer, but Chattanooga is “a flourishing post-village of Hamilton co., Tennessee on the Tennessee River, 250 miles by water below Knoxville, and 140 miles S. E. of Nashville. It is the terminus of the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad, and of the Western and Atlantic Railroad, which connects it with the chief towns of Georgia. The Tennessee River is navigable by steam during the eight months in the year, and by small boats at all times. These circumstances render Chattanooga one of the most important and flourishing towns of the state.” (Thomas and Baldwin 1855).


Webster’s 1949 lists Missionary Ridge as a “Ridge extending NE to SW in Hamilton co., Tennessee, and Dade co., Georgia; a section of this ridge near Chattanooga was the site of a Union victory Nov. 25, 1863 in the Civil War.” The ridge itself surrounds downtown Chattanooga and essentially bisects the present city. The Ridge today is a center for the residences of the affluent and it is probable that it was a resort in Mary’s time. The present residents, to look at their monuments, are very proud of the historic Civil War association when the siege of their town was lifted after Confederate forces under General Braxton Bragg were routed from Chattanooga by Union forces under Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman and George H. Tomas on November 25, 1863 (Wikipedia Oct. 2010).


Simon Schwendener (February 10, 1829 - May 27, 1919), a Swiss botanist, earned his doctorate from the University of Zurich in 1856, and taught in Germany at the University of Munich for a few years. In 1867 he became Director of the Botanical Garden in Basel in northwestern Switzerland where he was also a professor of botany. His researches in plant anatomy and physiology led him to present in 1869 the startling theory that the lichens have a dual nature: they are composed of two separate organisms, an alga and a fungus, a theory that at the time of its presentation was thought to be preposterous.


Yet that is what lichens are. The algae species within the body of the lichen belong to the algae divisions Cyanochloronta and Chlorophycophyta. The fungus species belong to the Ascomycota, Basidiomycota and Deuteromycota (Bold 1973) and both coexist in a form of symbiotic relationship.


For an excellent account of Schwendener, see Honegger, 2000.


The union of these two organisms produces a “plant body of consistently recognizable structure and appearance” (Bold 1973 p. 219) such that Mary Wilson could identify them, or name them during her period of work in the decades of the 1860’s and 1870’s when she corresponded with the North American lichenologist Edward Tuckerman (1817 - 1886). Tuckerman had died a year after George Clinton.


In Clinton’s collecting journal, or diary for 1870, he wrote:


 “Jan. 21. For some days have been looking up lichens & fungi,

particularly the latter. A few days ago, on Rhus typhinum, on the plains,

found a Calicium (very abundant) which Miss Mary L. Wilson (who has taken

the Lichens in charge) thinks is C. Curtisii. Found it, today, on Rhus

typhina, on the head of Goat Island.”


Later, Clinton wrote in his diary:


 “Feb. 6. Mr. Peck writes that Mr. Tuckermann, to whom he

submitted them, decides that the Calicium from Rhus typhinum is C.

Curtisii, Tuck. and that another I sent is C. subtile, Ach.’”


This passage indicates that at this date, Peck was not working on lichens.

There is no real evidence that lichenology formed a particular interest of his, feeling free to send queries in this regard on to Tuckerman. 



Congressional Hotel, Washington D. C. [2 sheets]


Oct. 15 [18]'98


Mr. Peck. Dear sir: -


My thanks to you for your information about the new work on lichens. I regret that I did not know that you would like to see the heavy Lepiota so common on Mission Ridge - perhaps I can describe it, so that you will recognize it - it was hardly more than half the height of L. procera, the cap was never as broad as the largest forms of L. procera but it was heavier in all respects - the stipe as well as the cap. The colour was more like the perfectly clear white of L. Americana, but it had the brown scabs similar to both of the above species 


- its ring was thick, its whole aspect was so chubby until it was fairly expanded - that at a little distance I was often uncertain whether it was not a puffball, when the cap was fully expanded the gills were bright green in color [sic]. Even when the perfectly white, unexpanded cap was cooked the flesh became gray in colour, its taste was not equal to L. procera [underlined]


- I always found it at the very top of the ridge, & usually in companies, seldom solitary; it was a very pretty thing - its scales caught & held the dew drops, & it seemed often as if covered with jewels. I have seen it no where else at the South. I would send back to friends there for it if I had only left a follower there, but I know no one there who has any special knowledge of the fungi. Still, if from my accounts, which are accurate I assure you, you should suspect that it is a new species I will write to a friend, an old man of 90 years - to see what he can do to find it about his grounds: he was a naturalist when young & would be glad to be of service to science. I know he cannot ramble far. His name is Mr. G. Escol Gillers [sp.?] Now I must speak of one other fungus, very common at the South, it is an Amanita [underlined]. I have hoped to see some plate or description of it that would tell me what it is, but, altho' I possess and I have had access to several works, I have gained no hint of it. Did you not say that Amanita phalloides [underlined] has not ['not' underlined] striate margins I should suppose that this were the plant. It looks precisely like the white & brown forms of the sheathed Amanitopsis only it is is [sic] much larger. I have seen it measuring 8 or 10 inches in diameter at [sic] the South, it is very common: the striae such as one sees on the margin of Amanitopsis vaginata are always present. It is soft & very white in the gills, and has the wrapper at the base rather torn & evanescent & the bulb well marked. I was told in N. Carolina that it was edible, but a friend of mine & I both believe that we were somewhat poisoned by it - it is very delicate in flavor - cooked in milk it tasted like oyster stew - it always appears clean & inviting. I recall a [sink?]ing sensation ["with pains" writ above] one night which compelled me to resort to stimulants.


My friend complained of strong pains, and a marked rash the length of her arm ensued, another friend said that she felt as if her arms had been half paralyzed after eating it, it has seemed to me strange that I have nowhere been able to learn anything of it. 


Some curious forms of fungi that I met at Swanee Tenn. were cigar shaped, brilliant orange & crimson or scarlet, with a greenish slime towards the top; they were hollow with reticulated linings, one species was of this shape, another equally curious  protruding from the ground was shaped thus [small sketch] the open aperture at the top. I am inclined to suppose that anything I might discover that would be strange to me would be common to you.


I shall go southward again in one month, then if I can be of service I shall be pleased


Very truly yours


Mary L. Wilson


P. S. on Mission[ary] Ridge I saw Amanita ceasaria [sic] with a cap as large as a dinner plate. The species there were not numerous, however.


M. L. W. 


One well-known antidote to certain mushroom poisonings in Mary Wilson’s time was atropine, which “has long been used to counteract the effect of muscarine in Amanita muscaria poisonings” (Miller 1977). Atropine derives from Atropa belladonna and other relatives in the Tomato Family (Solanaceae). Muscarine “excites the parasympathetic nervous system, which results in the slowing of the heart, dilation of blood vessels, and constricting of the pupils of the eyes” (Miller 1977). Atropine “causes paralysis of all responses to parasympathetic stimulation” (Hoerr & Osol 1960).


The genus Lepiota possesses some rather spectacular, large species. In the genus, there is a ring on the stem, similar to an Amanita, but no volva. The genus is of interest in that the larger species are safe to eat. Lepiota americana, originally described by Charles Peck, grows from July to October “Easily known by the brownish-vinous-red color assumed by the plant in aging, and by the stem, which is shaped like an athlete’s Indian club.” (Krieger 1967).


Peck has described an unwholesome Lepiota: Lepiota morgani, Morgan’s Lepiota, which “grows mostly in the western and southern states” (Krieger 1967) and is poisonous. This species has a large, thick, movable ring. Mary’s description of the green gills seems to match the description of Morgan’s Lepiota, as is the characteristic that it is a “much heavier plant” (Krieger 1967). The spores at first are a bright green, then fade to dull-green to sordid.


Lepiota procera, the Parasol mushroom is perhaps the most striking species in the genus and “one of the finest of all edible mushrooms!” (Krieger 1967) yet the Morgan’s Lepiota is nearly identical with it.


The last mushroom described was probably what is known as a stinkhorn, although she did not describe the unpleasant smell of these organisms. The stinkhorns have a single, unbranched, erect stipe, sometimes brightly colored, as Mary Wilson describes. The greenish slime towards the top is where the spores are concentrated. Mutinus caninus, the Common Stinkhorn, has a narrow red stalk with green slime over the top. The Stalk is chambered and there is no differentiation at the apex into a ‘head.’ This is characteristic of the genus (Miller 1977).



Washington. Feb. 18, [18]'99


Dear Mr. Peck:


I thank you for the Report you have sent - it will probably reach me soon: it will be much valued by me, and very useful when I find species in Virginia at Falmouth near Fredericksburg this spring. 


I offer the following names. Miss Sarah E. Cole of Groveland Mass. is an enthusiastic student of the mushrooms: she taught others last summer & read a paper on them before the Essex Co. Field Club. She would appreciate the Report very much.


Miss Elsie M. Young


446 Washington St.


Brookline, Mass


is another enthusiastic student. I have much enjoyed knowing what the Mycological Club here is doing, altho' I came too late for many rambles hereabout,


Yours very truly


Mary L. Wilson


Your kindness to collectors seems to be much appreciated here, at least by Mrs. Fuller.


Groveland is a small residential town in northern Essex Co., Massachusetts.  Falmouth is a small town, Stafford co., Virginia at the falls on the north bank of the Rappahannock River north of and opposite the city of Fredericksburg.



Skyland N. C. May 31, 1900


Dear Mr. Peck:


I am sending by mail a box containing a Tricholoma which may be multiceps [underlined] - but the specimens are so much large & ['whiter' written above] finer than those I saw in Washington that I am doubtful. It resembles some plates I have of the European T. Georgii Fr. [underlined] but the stipe of the latter in the plates has no scaly appearance. I am told that this species is common here in low pastures near stumps. I notice that the taste is a little biting - which I believe is not the case in T. multiceps [underlined] Pk.


The other species in the box is the yellow Amanitopsis that I sent specimens of two years ago nearly. You desired me to observe the young forms and report on the color of the gills: I found them pale yellow. Can you give me the name of this species? It is rather common here & in the Cumberland Mts. - a very pretty thing. (It is not A. vaginata).


In your reply to my letter sent with two Amanitas (Nos. 1 & 2) in March you asked if the greenish heaps of granules upon the smaller species was not a characteristic? It certainly is, or has seemed such on the five specimens I have seen: it is a rare fungus, I fear I may not soon find it young.


The other Amanita with the striate margins does not come until July. It is very common this hot month & through August. If it is new as you suggest, I wonder that it should have escaped observation - for it is rather common in the Cumberland Mt. also. Its striate margin & satiny top distinguish it from all other species of the Amanitas that I have known.


We have had a dry & fine May so there are not many fungi to be found.


I have a few things on hand that I may send when I can give reports such as you want or the early stages &c.


I wonder if Amanita ovoidea B. [underlined] is found in America! I saw some specimens last year that resemble in shape & general appearance the plates of A. ovoidea in "Atlas des Champignons" - and the description given in the Atlas seems to fit it - I hope this year will be more favorable for the mushrooms than last year was in these regions.


Yours vey truly


Mary L. Wilson


Clitocybe multiceps, or Tricholoma aggregatum is “exceedingly common” and enjoys disturbed places, growing in dense clusters “which may contain a hundred or more individuals and weigh as much as fifteen pounds” (Arora 1986). The Tricholoma multiceps mentioned above was described by Peck.


Tricholoma georgii is common in England, grows in “fairy rings” and resembles Agaricus campestris, or the common grocery store mushroom.


Amanita ovoidea B. [= Berkeley?] is the European White Egg and there is no mention of it occurring in North America with a white cap to 12 cm. Amanita virosa and Amanita proxima closely resemble it, both highly toxic species.


As advertized in the final pages of Peck (1897), and their cost in 1897:


Constantin. Atlas des Champignones comestibles et veneneux 228 colored figures. 1.00


Constantin et Dufour Nouv. Flore des Champignones. Paris, 1891. 3842 fig. 1.00.  Same. Second ed. Paris 1895. 4166 fig.  1.50


Petite Flore d. Champignones comest. et venen. [edible and poisonous] Paris 1895. 351 fig. .75





Skyland. N. Carolina


June 4, [18]'99


Dear Mr. Peck,


I send by mail today a strange fungus which I have not before seen, will you be so kind as to name it. In Tryon this spring I had the pleasure of seeing those photographs which you named for Miss Anderson.


I hope to be able to follow the growth of some fungi this season which you made inquiries about two years ago, for I expect to remain here all summer.


Yours truly


Mary L. Wilson.


[along the margin] This fungus grows on a stump. I have a larger cluster.


 [See letter of June 23, 1900 for a reference to Miss. Anderson and her photographs.]



Skyland. N. C. June 27 [18]'99


Dear Mr. Peck. I send a mushroom in a match box today which I should be thankful to know the name of. I've not found it before. A lady here tells me that it is a delicious one - she also tells me that some mushroom or fungus is now known to inoculate against rattlesnake poison - or snake bites generally, but she cannot tell me the name of the fungus: do you know of such an antidote in the mycological order? Excessive drought has prevailed here until yesterday.


Yours very truly


Mary L. Wilson



Skyland N. C.  July 8, [18]'99  [this & next Jul. 10 same paper type, blue 1899]


Dear Mr. Peck:


Your card is at hand. I am sorry to say that I cannot now send you another specimen like the one I sent in the 1st match box. I kept it for some weeks before sending it hoping to duplicate it. A lady here who has an excellent eye for the mushrooms tells me that she has found it several times, so I may see it again.


I observed when I gathered the one specimen, that it had a thin rag of the vail [sic] clinging about the stipe just where the collar should be, - but it could not be called a collar as it was: I observed no volva - I had no knife with me at the time - so could not dig for a volva, but I saw none - these facts I specially noted, its odor was very pleasant. I told you I think that my friend said it was "delicious eating" - The specimen I sent grew in a light - open thicket by the roadside. I will watch for it in the  same locality when we have more rains. While we are not now suffering from drought, the mushrooms are shy this year.


I will now send another species which I did not collect, so I cannot answer any questions about a volva: it had no collar certainly when I saw it fresh: I have just returned from a ramble on the mountain hoping to get more specimens before sending the only two that I have, but failed to find it.


I am expecting to own a little home here in these mountains - which are so full of beautiful woods & rambles; by another year I hope to have it so settled that I can offer my friends hospitality - or offer them the key of the house when I am not here - I shall then be glad to put my "den" which will be comfortable at least, at your disposal; the French Broad is near - there are no rattlesnakes - red bugs & ticks are fewer than elsewhere & the wildness is as fresh as that of a wild rose.


Very truly


Mary L. Wilson


on my ramble this A. M. I saw some common Russulas & Amanitopsis vaginata but nothing new to me.


The French Broad is a river, 210 miles long “formed by junction of north and west forks in Transylvania Co., SW North Carolina, flows NW through Great Smoky Mts. across Tennessee border, turns west to unite with Holston river near Knoxville and form Tennessee river” (Webster 1949).

    Red bugs are chiggers, a mite of the Trombiculidae. They feed, not on blood, but skin cells, causing severe itching in the hole they chew in their victim’s skins.  A tick is a small arachnid in the genus Acarina and these do feed on the blood of their victims.

    The final paragraph of this letter is reminiscent of the spirit and poesy of Rhoda Waterbury, another correspondent of George Clinton who lived or rambled on the mountain tops of eastern New York State.



Skyland, N. C. July 10, [18]'99


Dear Mr. Peck:


I send a box today which contains a few things unknown to me. No 1 is perhaps a more fully developed spec. of the one sent in a cylinder box 3 days ago. 


[written in by Peck?: ‘Decayed and moldy not rec'd’] 


No. 2. is broken, but it is all there. The flat cap is creamy reticulated.


 ["Am. solitaria? prob." written in by Peck in pencil?]  


No. 3 in a fragmentary state is perhaps the same as the one you say is new: the fragment of a stipe shows some hairs: I had most carefully [brot? sic] the whole thing from the mountain - but some body seized it ruthlessly & it was ruined. The upper part of the stipe had the vail [sic] clinging to it. [written in: "decayed and molded"  Peck?] 


No. 4 I have not before seen [written in: " inferred" ?]


No. 5 A common Peziza I suppose.


Very truly


Mary L. Wilson



[two sheets + illo]


[Emblem at top of letter PHOTO “CAM’? in a wreath]


Skyland. N. C. June 15 1900. 


Dear Mr. Peck. I can now answer your questions concerning the Amanitopsis that I sent last week. I will send some with sketches in color of the plant at various stages. Its color is somwhat variable, but it is always on the top of the pileus in shades of orange. The gills are always in both young & old specimens of a pale yellow tinge. The stems in fresh specimens shade from pale yellow down to white - but turn brownish when gathered. I have given in my sketches the shape of the pileus at different ages - it is perfectly [globose?] - the lamellae are free: the interior of the stem is rather fibrous, but it is not hollow. The volva is difficult to report of. I cannot usually detach it well from the ground, it certainly is not a sheath. The dried specimens I sent you last week show the volva as well as it can be shown. This pretty plant is frequently found throughout the summer. When old the cap curls upward as the profile sketch shows.


I send the dried specimens from which I made these sketches. I will also send another sketch of another Amanitopsis that I find sometimes but more rarely: it is not A. vaginata. I will send the dried form of it too & number it 4 [underlined]. 


I will send in the box a baked Amanita that I have never found before: (its baking was accidental but the glossy surface of its pileus is well shown & also the powdery heaps upon it) - it was very viscid and the gills exuded a milky juice: it was perfectly white and pleasant in both taste & odor. The ground hereabouts is always rather piney. I will number this Amanita 5 [underlined]  


Since writing the above I have found the volva of two specimens of the Amanitopsis No 3 - I will make a rude sketch of it. The specimens gathered this A. M. all have larger caps than those I have drawn, and the stems were all pale yellow.


The gills in one case deeper yellow that I have [shown?]  [new sheet] colored. The caps were all viscid. I will add some few other things to the box. If you find any of them interesting I will look for more. 


Please say which of the specimens sent are known to be edible and if they can be named in their present condition I would be grateful. 


I must apologize for the poor paper on which my sketches are made. I am at a distance from Asheville and I can not now improve my stock of any kind of paper.


Yours very truly


Mary L. Wilson 


Included is a sketch on a paper folded [once] showing the underside of the cap (stipe removed), an older representation with the cap uplifted with age, showing the gills, two stems, younger and sketches of the volva "volvas of 2 specimens of the Amanitopsis. No. 3"  My notes indicate the drawings are colored "Colored orange & yellow."]]




Skyland. N. C. June 21. 1900


Dear Mr. Peck: 


I can now send you a colored sketch of the Amanita sent in the early spring. No. 1 or 2 (I am not quite certain which of these numbers it was marked - as I did not retain a specimen). This colored sketch shows its ragged stipe - torn veil & torn volva. The stipe is a little hollow - only a knitting needle could be run thro' the space. The pileus much resembles that of Amanitopsis vaginata: it is even sometimes umbonate. It is frequently paler in colour - but the centre [sic] of the cap is always colored [sic] this leaden brown hue. I send one young specimen also (both were too much baked - but the smooth surface of the cap is well shown: it is always smoother - glossier than that of Amanitopsis vaginata - I have seen the pileus full ten inches in diameter - but my sketch gives the usual size: there are never mealy heaps or particles on the cap, but the stipe is often flocculose. As I wrote before it is very common here & in the Cumberland Mts. - & at Missionary Ridge - and it is I believe somewhat poisonous - for two friends & myself suffered strong [strange?] sensations after eating it - but another friend says that if cooked ... it is safe. I will send two other Amanitas in the same package - which I will number 9 & 10. 


No. 9 is very long & heavy - the dried specimen is only 1/4th the size of the fresh one: the other is [white?]: the whole thing is very flocculose.


No. 10 is a small buff colored thing - quite common here - the cap has always the regular heaps of powder on its surface.


Hoping that my specimens are distinct enough for recognition.


Very truly yours


Mary L. Wilson


[The name "Wilson" is written on the last page in pencil perpendicular to the text lines] 



Skyland N. C. June 23, 1900


Dear Mr. Peck:


The Amanitopsis [underlined] named by you A. parcivolvata [underlined] does not seem to me to be the same as that collected by Miss. Anderson in New Jersey & so named by you. She & I discussed these plants last winter, when I showed her my dried specimens and she showed me her photographs - We neither of us supposed the fungi to be the same. Still I see now that it is an extremely variable thing: in this exceedingly wet season I am finding this Amanitopsis [underined] abundant & differing from any of it that I have found before: it is much larger often of late than the sketch I sent you (full 4 1/2 inches across often) and its color varies too - some times the cap is white excepting at the centre - where there may be an orange or a crimson spot. Some people whom I know here who collect fungi for edible purposes eat this yellow Amanitopsis [underlined] freely; there is nothing so common here now.


I will now send more of the tawny species. #4 - of my sketch - I obtained its volva deep in the soil - & it still clings to the stipe that I will send: the striae of all specimens of it are very fine & close [written above:] 


"& inconspicuous”: the stipe is somewhat hollow & very brittle.


I will send another Amanita [underlined] [written above:] "No. 11" that I have found but one specimen of: it suggests A. muscaria, but it is different in several respects. The color of the pileus is vermillion, and it is so covered with gray [sic] brown warts regularly disposed that it appears congested: pileus about 7 inches across - gills yellowish white - stipe very clean, with a portion of the veil clinging midway - the stipe is yellow & whitish-bulbous base smooth. I got up the whole thing with much clinging earth & carefully removed the dirt, and no sheath or cup or scale was visible. The plant looked superb - odor agreeable.


No. 12. [underlined] Is this Tricholoma nudum [underlined] and is it edible? 


If I am sending to you too often now please let me know it - this rainy month brings many things.


Yours very truly 


Mary L. Wilson 


Tricholoma nudum (Bull.) Quel. [written in another hand = Peck?]


Miller (1977) wrote that Tricholoma nudum (Fr.) Kummer is the same as Lepista nuda (Fr.) Cooke, Tricholoma personatum (Fr. ex Fr.) Kummer, and gives the name Clitocybe nuda (Fr.) Bigelow and Smith as its proper name. It is not only edible, but choice. It is a colorful fungus with violet-gray cap, pale lilac gills and dull lavender stalk. The odor is fragrant. Miller wrote “This is a delicious edible fungus and is often found in great quantity.”


Miss Anderson and her photographs are also mentioned in letter of June 4, [18]’99 above.


The following is on a detached sheet that I had associated with the previous letter of October 9 [18]’98 perhaps as it is stored that way in the Archives. I have associated this sheet, however, with this June 23, 1900 letter as it has the same soft paper, yellowish, and the fold seems to match. Another possibility is June 21, 1900 but the content seems to suggest it goes with June 23, 1900 instead:


12. A violet grey or greyish [note "grey"] brown cap - dark red brown gills - surface of cap silky - stem fibrous, brittle.


13. Yellow brown cap, gills white, on the mountain - gills orange.


14. coral color, growing in moss on the mountain.


15. Brown cushiony cap, gills yellow. 


This is a loose sheet at NYS: there are two disassociated pieces of paper: I am placing them here as the salutation occurs at the end of the following and is absent from the two papers above. 


in great numbers often. I have seen it with a cap measuring ten inches across - but its usual diameter is five or six inches. I tried in Washington to find out something about it, but no rain.


I shall return to North Carolina in a few days for the summer. I hope to have a more successful season with collections than I had last year - which was singularly barren.


My address will now be to Skyland, Buncombe Cy. N. Carolina.


Yours very truly - with sincere thanks for the Bulletin & plates.                    Mary L. Wilson



Amanita parcivolvata (Peck) E.-J. Gilbert was first described by Peck.




Skyland. N. C. July 8, 1900  [Jul 8 & 10 same paper type, blue, of 1899!] 


Dear Mr. Peck: The Amanitopsis [underlined] that you wish to know more about (#4) is rather rare here, it appears only in very wet weather on the lawns or roadsides: it grows also in the Cumberland region of Tennessee. It is distinguished from A. vaginata [underlined] in its appearance by its acute yellow brown apex as it protrudes from the ground & by its constricted cap which invariable bursts & often curls upwards in segments when it expands. The stipe tapers upwards. The volva is always deep in the ground. I have gone down two or three visits to find it: its color is to my eye as I said tawny and yellow brown, invariable in that it seems a firmer thing than A. vaginata.  


A. vaginata [underlined] has been immense here this year, often five inches across or more.  


If that Amanita # 11 is A. rubescens [underlined] it is an imperial one for it far surpasses in size & loftiness of bearing & brilliancy of color any A. rubescens [underlined] I have seen represented. I am familiar with many forms of it. This one here is almost as brilliant as A. muscaria. I am specially trying to separate the Amanitas here. I find more species [than?] [a name? Massee?]  describes. I will send some which I will follow up, should they be interesting.


16. A rude sketch I will inclose to show its color & markings & shape; it is always smooth & glossy. The pileus is brown & rather striped with spots of white here & there as I have given in the sketch - these spots are not warts or mealiness but in the texture or flesh. The volva base is round & smooth. I have seen the solid stipe sometimes taller than I have given it here - it is not uncommon - it is edible. The vail [sic] is long & whiter as the dried specimen will show.


17. Cap whitish, about 4 in across covered with greyish white mealy spots - stipe hollow. The shape of the undeveloped cap thus [small mushroom image to one inch with cap and bulbous base] bulb quite long & slightly margined, odor rather rank. I have several other solitary specimens which differ - I am waiting to find [notes?] for them before venturing to [the rest can't find sheet at NYS for the rest:] send them. If you have published a description of Amanita spreta would you be so kind as to tell me where it can be seen. With many thanks for the names you have given me


Very truly yours


Mary L. Wilson



Skyland. Oct. 29, 1900


Dear Mr. Peck:


When your letter came inquiring specially about two species of Amanita - one of which you named A. submaculata [underlined], I hoped to find more examples to send you - but an exceedingly dry season followed and scarcely a single fungus could be found, and so those were vernal species and not very common. I have been unable to find them again since the late rains came. 


You asked however for the color of the gills of A. submaculata [underlined] - they are pure white - very clean & not very close together.


I shall send you later a sketch - colored - of the other Amanita [underlined] & one specimen dried. 


My cares have been so great this summer & autumn that I have not been able to study at all, but soon when we are settled in Tryon for the winter I hope to pursue the fungi more.  


Yesterday, Dr. Carl Mohr, formerly of Mobile came to spend the day with me - he specially inquired if in any way he could obtain late numbers of the Regents' Reports. During Judge Clinton's life time they went to him regularly. A teacher of the Asheville College inquires also if she could obtain late number of the Regents' Reports & be enrolled as a regular recipient. She is doing an earnest work in Asheville in botanical interests.


While I suppose the applicants for the Reports are numerous I will just venture to give the addresses of these two botanists who so desire to obtain them


Dr. Carl Mohr

16 Starnes Ave.

Asheville N. C.


Miss. E. K. Ford

Asheville College


N. C.


I send in a little box some specimens of Coprinus - I do not find them described in any work that I have. Would you kindly give me the name on the enclosed card.


Yours very truly


Mary L. Wilson


Dr. Mohr's work on the Flora of Alabama is soon forthcoming. 


My address is now changed to Tryon N. C. 


Associated with this letter is a large picture of a mushroom painted "Amanita spreta” = Amanita spreta (Peck) Sacc., the "Hated Caesar" fungus. It has been described as a robust, somewhat common species of North America.


Pk. N. C. Miss Wilson" in Peck's handwriting?  [archivist at NYS: illos sep'd ("colored sketch, Amanita spreta Pk.'...) in Box 28, Series 3:Artword: "Wilson, Mary L./Amanita speta"] See bottom of file for partial sheet "you inquired...]]


The following paper is associated with the letter “Skyland Oct. 29 1900” as a separate sheet: 


You inquired for the habitat of No. 16. A. submaculata [underlined], sp. nov. I have only found it in open places near the road or in light woods - or even in the open - it usually grows in clusters - it is edible.




I enclose with Coprinus - a pure white specimen - old & young - all I found - which seems to be near Lepiota - there was no ring however ]  



Dr. Rodham E. Tulloss (RET), a specialist in the genus Amanita, wrote of Amanita submaculata that it was:


“Originally collected in North Carolina where it was reported to occur scattered or clustered in "thin woods" and "open places."  In New Jersey it is often collected in Pine-Oak (Pinus-Quercus) barrens on sandy soil of the Atlantic Coastal Plain. Miss M. L. Wilson, Peck's North Carolina correspondent, included a rough watercolor of the material which is preserved at the New York State Museum (Albany).” (R. E. Tulloss, “Amanita submaculata Peck "Ball Gown Amanita",” Oct. 19, 2010).


On an earlier posting, Tulloss wrote: After more than thirty years of collecting in the eastern United States, RET has found only one entity that could correspond to Peck's description of A. submaculata. Nevertheless, because of the limited description of the present species (provided below), the identification has not been formally published. The candidate has simply been called "species 18" (Tulloss et al., 1995) among other herbarium designations.” 


“Originally collected in North Carolina where it was reported to occur scattered or clustered in "thin woods" and "open places." In New Jersey it is often collected in Pine-Oak (Pinus-Quercus) barrens on sandy soil of the Atlantic Coastal Plain.”


“Miss M. L. Wilson, Peck's correspondent, included a rough watercolor of the material which is preserved at the New York State Museum (Albany). This species is often misidentified in North America. In North American, RET has been told that A. excelsa (Fr.:Fr.) Bertillon in Dechambre has a fruity odor, which is not true so far as we know. This error is probably due to the North American confusion of A. submaculata, A. morrisii Peck, and other species, with the European species.”


“The information below is derived from the original description (Peck, 1900) supplemented by the description of the type by Jenkins (1978 ...Studies in the Genus Amanita Pers. (Agaricales, Fungi), a website  (2007) edited by:  


Dr. Rodham E. Tulloss; Herbarium Rooseveltensis Amanitarum, P. O. Box 57, Roosevelt,  New Jersey 08555-0057, USA


Charles Mohr corresponded with George Clinton. Letters from him archived at the Buffalo Museum of Science begin April 30, 1867 and end February 21, 1879.  In August 12, 1875, Mohr wrote Clinton of the receipt of mosses from Miss Wilson - these being probably duplicates of mosses from Clinton’s correspondence, as Mary is not known to have worked on the taxonomy of mosses in Buffalo. On August 26, 1878, Mohr wrote at the end of a note on a postcard to Clinton  “Please give my best respects to Miss Wilson.” Later in the year Mohr visited Clinton and his wife, and also visited the Museum of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences in Buffalo, N.Y. as noted in a letter to Clinton of August 26, 1878:


“These spend at your blissful home and the interesting ones spend with you and Miss Wilson at your museum will never be forgotten.”


   Charles Mohr moved to Asheville from Mobile, Alabama in 1900. In Ashville he preoccupied himself with the Biltmore Herbarium, but it couldn’t have been for long, for he would die in the following year. Starnes Avenue exists in Asheville, North Carolina in Buncombe Co. In the same year of his death, he published his volume on the Flora of Alabama to which Mary referred above:


U.S. Dept. Agriculture. Division of Botany. Contributions from the U.S.National Herbarium. Vol. VI. Issued July 31, 1901. Plant Life of Alabama. Prepared in cooperation with the Geological Survey of Alabama by Charles Mohr, Ph.D. Washington: Government Printing Office. 1901.


Mohr’s date of death was July 17, 1901 - he appears to have died fourteen days before the issue of his monumental flora of the State of Alabama.



Tryon N. C. Jan 26, 1901  [Ja 29 written in by hand, probably Peck's date of receipt] 


Dear Mr. Peck: 


I thank you for the reprint from the Torrey Bulletin which you have sent me. That Amanitopsis parcivolvata [underlined] became a very interesting object in the last variable summer - I did find it in previous seasons in N. Carolina & the Cumberland of Tennessee - but it was always orange in color - and of medium [underlined] size - indeed it was rather small - but last year in the early wet summer of June it took on many brilliant shades and grew to great size - and its variation was continued during the heated time  as often as showers came on. Pecks of it could be easily gathered. 


I am sending you now some specimens of an Amanita [underlined] that grew abundantly about Tryon last November: the specimens dried in the ground and presented the same appearance then that they have now: it is not A. solitaria [underlined] as I know it - nor A. monticulosa [underlined]. If you have any desire to see the winter fungi here I can get together quite a box full some day I think.


Yours very truly


Mary L. Wilson


Amanita monticulosa (Berk. & Curt.) Sacc. 


Amanita parcivolvata (Peck) Gilbert, the Ringless False Fly-Agaric, “is closely related to A. muscaria but it has a powdery veil, leaves no ring, and the yellowish volval patches fall off readily. It is also smaller in size. It was spores of the same size and no amyloid reaction, its toxicity is unknown, and it is reported only from northeastern North America.” (Miller 1977).




Tryon, N. Car.  Apr. 20  1901 [Ap. 22 written by hand above; probably date of receipt and by Peck] 


Dear Mr. Peck:


I have received from you two very valuable Reports on fungi for which please accept my sincerest thanks. I feel much ..ed by this addition to my Mycological literature. 


I have regretted much that I could not carry out my proposal to send you winter fungi from here. Just after I wrote you there was severe cold that destroyed everything - tho' up to that time fungi had been frequent. And nothing of special interest has since appeared here. Spring has been unusually tardy.  There have been some ordinary Catastomas & Geasters which

I knew you received from Miss Anderson when she was here. I send a cigar box by mail now containing the only things not familiar that I have seen. The large polyporus may be but a desiccated state of some common one. 


I shall go to Skyland soon and I shall hope that this season may bring again some doubtful Amanitas that I want to send you.


With repeated thanks for the favor of the Reports.


Yours very truly


Mary L. Wilson 


The genus Catastoma (= Disciseda) comprises puffball species. Geaster are the Earthstars, another group of puffballs, both in the Gasteromycetes.]


With this letter the correspondence between Peck and Wilson archived at the New York State Museum ends: Apr. 20,  1901. Charles Mohr would die in Asheville a few months later.


By complete chance, while seeking to study a copy of Mohr’s publication, a copy was found in one of the rare book collections in the research library of the Missouri Botanical Garden. The book is part of the Ewan Collection purchased by the Garden in 1986. Joseph Ewan taught at Tulane University, New Orleans in Louisiana, for 39 years. During this period, he and his wife, Nesta Dunn Ewan accumulated books, papers and other documents, forming the Ewan Collection “one of the largest and richest privately owned natural history collections in the world”  (Wolf 1998). In 1986, the Missouri Botanical Garden purchased this material and presently curates it in Saint Louis, Missouri.


Upon opening the cover of the issue of Mohr’s book in the Ewan Collection from Tulane University, written on the blank leaf at the front of the book, a signature was discovered of the book’s previous owner. Written in an elegant hand were the words: Mary L. Wilson, November 1901.


Description: Description: MaryWilsonSignature






Dates of Letters in Peck Archives, New York State Museum:

August 13, 1897 

Aug. 31 [18]'97

June 30 [18]98.

Aug. 15 [18]98.

Oct. 9 [18]'98 

Oct. 15 [18]'98

Feb. 18, [18]'99

May 31, 1900

June 4, [18]'99

June 27 [18]'99

July 8, [18]'99 

July 10, [18]'99

June 15 1900.

June 21. 1900

June 23, 1900

July 8, 1900 

Oct. 29, 1900

[no date: the Congressional Hotel]

Jan 26, 1901 

Apr. 20  1901



Note: This contribution is properly cited as:


Eckel, P. M. 2010. Correspondence of Mary L. Wilson (?-1919) and Charles lPeck (1833-1917). Res Botanica, a Missouri Botanical Garden Web Site. URL; Accessed (give date of viewing).