Mary L. Wilson and C. Peck
Mary L. Wilson (?-1919) and Charles Peck (1833-1917)
Edited by P. M. P.O. Box 299,
Mary L. Wilson
Miss Mary L. Wilson Part
III: The Correspondence of
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
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 “
Little is known of
Miss Wilson’s life in
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
As noted in
“Jan. 15. About 1 P.M. got back
I have not yet
determined when Mary Wilson abandoned
In the years
subsequent to 1882, Mary lived for five years in
“I do not live in
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
Mountains themselves extend south down eastern North America from
In the resort areas of the Blue Ridge: “The
mountains of N. Carolina do more abound in them [edible and fine mushrooms]
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
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
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
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
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.
There may as well
have been a bitter poignancy associated with the sudden loss of a
professional career that started with promise in
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 “
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
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
Miss Cummings was a
Miss Wilson, in her
“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).”
attributed the entire section on
“Cummings, Clara E.,
in Mohr, Charles. Plant Life of
Nat. Herb. 6:1-921. A list of 225 species and varieties of lichens with
notes on distribution, pp. 267-283.”
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
The final decade of
the nineteenth century was characterized by a major business contraction in
Peck, working as
State Botanist in
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.”
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).
civic conscience may have been piqued in Europe, which just before the
depression of 1893 in the
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
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
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
I would like to thank
John Grehan, Director of Science and Collections, Buffalo Museum of Science,
Buffalo, New York and
Arora, David. 1986.
Mushrooms demystified: a comprehensive guide to the fleshy Fungi. Ten Speed
Bold, Harold C. 1973.
Morphology of Plants, ed. 3 Harper & Row.
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
Grant, H. Roger 1983.
Self-help in the 1890s Depression. The
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
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.
Mohr, Charles: 1901.
Palmer Jr., Julius
Aboineau (1840-1899). 1885. Mushrooms of
Peck, Charles Horton,
1895 Edible and Poisonous Fungi of
Peck, Charles Horton.
1897. Mushrooms and their use.
Peck, C. H. 1900.
Report of the State Botanist on Edible Fungi of
Rand, Edward L. and
John H. Redfield. 1894. Flora of
1869. "Die Flechten als
Parasiten der Algen" (The lichens as parasites of algae) in Verhandlungen der Nauturforschenden
Thomas, J., M.D. and
T. Baldwin. 1855. A Complete Pronouncing Gazetteer, or Geographical
Dictionary, of the World. J. B. Lippincott & Co.
[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.
Webster’s Geographical Dictionary. G. & C. Merriam Co., Publishers,
Whitten, David O. (
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
This archive at the
The letters of Mary L.
Wilson to Peck are transcribed and the transcription presented here through
the courtesy of the
1. [no date; probably 1897]
The Congressional Hotel
Dear Sir: I learn
from Mrs. Fuller of the Mycological Club here that a Report of the Botanist
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
“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
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
The Peck publication to which Mary Wilson refers, is contained in one of these Annual Reports:
Peck, Charles Horton, 1895 Edible and Poisonous
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
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]
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
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
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 -
Mary L. Wilson
Bonney Crest Inn
Aug. 13 '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
Having written this, Orson K. Miller, Jr. (1977
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
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 '97
Dear Mr. Peck:
Your letter & the
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
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
With many thanks for your pamphlet on the mushrooms.
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
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
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 “
June 30 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
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
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
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
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.
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.
Oct. 9 '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
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 '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
Webster’s 1949 lists Missionary Ridge as a
“Ridge extending NE to SW in
Simon Schwendener (February 10, 1829 - May
27, 1919), a Swiss botanist, earned his doctorate from the
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.
“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
“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 '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
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
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
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).
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
I offer the following
names. Miss Sarah E. Cole of
Miss Elsie M. Young
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
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
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
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
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
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
Petite Flore d. Champignones comest. et venen. [edible
June 4, '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.
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 '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, '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.
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
Skyland, N. C. July 10, '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
[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: "C..th... inferred" ?]
No. 5 A common Peziza I suppose.
Mary L. Wilson
[two sheets + illo]
[Emblem at top of letter PHOTO “
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
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 "
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.”
The following is on a detached sheet that I had associated with the previous letter of October 9 ’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
I shall return to
My address will now
be to Skyland, Buncombe Cy.
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
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
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
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.,
Caesar" fungus. It has been
described as a robust, somewhat common species of
Pk. N. C. Miss Wilson" in Peck's
handwriting? [archivist at NYS:
illos sep'd ("colored sketch, Amanita spreta Pk.'...) in
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:
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
“Miss M. L. Wilson, Peck's correspondent,
included a rough watercolor of the material which is preserved at the
“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,
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
“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
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
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
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
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
Upon opening the cover of the issue of
Mohr’s book in the Ewan Collection from
Dates of Letters in
August 13, 1897
Aug. 31 '97
June 30 98.
Aug. 15 98.
Oct. 9 '98
Oct. 15 '98
Feb. 18, '99
May 31, 1900
June 4, '99
June 27 '99
July 8, '99
July 10, '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