Mushrooms made easy at Mycology club

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Cortinarius iodes mushroom. - Photo via Jenna Levner

A club that is sprouting exponentially in Rowan is the mycology club with only a short period since beginning. The mycology club began last year and got chartered at the beginning of last spring semester. When biology major, Jenna Levner, transferred to Rowan, there was no club for mycology. 

She wanted a club for people interested in mushrooms but had no idea about the process of starting the club. But she was still determined that she was going to make the club happen. She started talking to her professors until she connected to the biology department head and learned that his Ph.D. was focused on fungi. 

“He ended up being like, well I don’t know if I can help you with starting it, but I’ll be your advisor,” said Levner. “And I ended up like reaching out to SGA, asking about what the process is like. Got a couple of friends together who had interest and we ended up just going along the process we were given and we made it.”

Levner’s fascination with mushrooms began when she got involved in the state organization known as the New Jersey Mycological Association (NJMA).

“It was a really amazing group of people, a lot of different ages,” said Levner. “Most of ’em were older, but that was honestly cool for me just getting involved in like learning about fungi and it was just a really cool experience to have people of different levels getting together to like learn together and explore the world. And I wanted to be able to bring that kind of sense of community around the subject to here.”

Laetiporus Cincinnatus, commonly known as chicken of the woods. – Photo via Jenna Levner

Levner admits there is a bit of a stigma around mushrooms as when people hear about mushrooms, they may think about the psychedelic mushrooms. 

“There’s so many different things that fungi are involved in that I think a lot of people like don’t think about,” said Levner. “So like when I was trying to talk about it with people I like to try and bring up these other applications. Like, you like baking? Well, you need yeast for that. You need fungi for that. You like going on hikes. Well, guess what? There’s mushrooms underneath your feet that you never even knew about. And that was what really like drew me to this study, just that there’s a whole entire world like hidden underneath their feet. So I just talk about that with people.”

Levner does understand the fascination with psychedelics as she states that it is cool as they produce compounds that interact with people’s bodies in a specific way but that there is more to the study of fungi.

“We do touch on that in the club because people are interested in it,” said Levner. “So it’s like we’ll talk about it. But when I try to break the stigma and I think that a lot of the stigma just comes from like the fact that it’s illegal and stuff like that. But there’s so much more to mushrooms than just psychedelics.”

Cantharellus Cinnabarinus, commonly named Cinnabar Chanterelle. – Photo via Jenna Levner

She is amazed at how many people come to the club. When the club had their first meeting over 30 people showed up and she stated that she wasn’t expecting that.  

“To just hear different, like people talk about their ideas and thoughts, like what drew them to it, it was really fascinating and it offered a lot of areas for the club to explore,” said Levner.

Even though the club is associated with the biology department, the majority of its members are not in S.T.E.M. 

“So I think that like trying to keep it on the like more friendly side of like not talking about the science that I love to talk about and just like talking about more broad basic applications. And doing associating this study of fungi which can be super complex with like fun things like arts and crafts or just going out and hiking and see what we find and putting it more as like an exploration than like, this is a study and this is all like specific,” said Levner. “So we’re just making it fun.”

Their next event is on March 1 at 2 p.m. in Discovery Hall in room 101 and the event will be Mushroom Movie Night.

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