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Mycological Department - History and collections in detail

Introduction

Mycology has been represented at the National Museum almost since its foundation in 1818. Lichenology was developed here only at certain periods, but the collecting of lichens was also started at the very beginning of the Museum's existence. At first mycological and lichenological collections were part of the botanical collections and until 1965 belonged to the Botanical Department funds. In 1965 the independent Mycological Department was founded. The mycological collection funds are placed in depositories and just some specimens are shown at short-term exhibitions. Most mycological collections serve mostly as reference material for scientists from both the Czech Republic and abroad. Unfortunately, there is no permanent mycological exhibition open to the public in the National Museum at present. However, a permanent progressively conceived exposition is being planned for the future.

Oldest collections

Our oldest herbarium specimens of fungi and lichens (so-called exsiccata) come from the beginning of the 19th century, when they were collected by the famous Prague botanist Philipp Maximilian Opiz. His collections became the base of the mycological herbarium. In 1818 Opiz founded an institute for the exchange of herbarium material (so-called Tauschanstalt) and thus stimulated other collectors, who started to collect mycological material beside vascular plants. In the same year, he distributed his first collection of exsiccata of non-vascular ("lower") plants named "Flora cryptogamica Bohemiae" which also contains several specimens of fungi and lichens; this is the oldest collection of its kind. Nowadays it belongs to the Mycological Department collection funds. Much valuable are also specimens from the exsiccate collection by the famous mycologist von Thümen from the latter half of the 19th century.

Corda's period

August Carl Joseph Corda – the only preserved portrait (caricature)

August Carl Joseph Corda – the only preserved portrait (caricature)

In 1826, the name of August C. J. Corda (1809-1849) appears in the mycological literature for the first time. In 1835 he became curator of the Museum's zoological collections, but he was mostly active in botany, palaeontology, and mycology.

Both his most extensive mycological works, concerning mostly tiny microscopic fungi – "Icones fungorum hucusque cognitorum" (6 volumes, 1837-1842, 1854) and "Prachtflora europäischer Schimmelbildungen" (1839) – originated at the Museum.

Corda was a scientist of world renown. His works are of fundamental importance and belong to the classical ones in mycological systematics. The type material according to which Corda described a large number of new species belongs to the most valuable and most precious funds within the Mycological Department.

Development under guidance of Albert Pilát

Albert Pilát (1903-1974)

Albert Pilát (1903-1974)

After Corda's tragical death in 1849 there was no-one at the Museum to deal systematically with mycology. So until 1930 mycological funds stagnated, being only complemented through occasional collections and exchanges. When in 1930 Albert Pilát, later a scientist of world renown, came to the Museum, he found only one case in the Department of Botany containing all the existing mycological material. The situation with lichens was rather different, as these were studied at the beginning of the 20th century by Edvin Bayer from the Department of Botany. Thanks to his own collecting activities as well as through exchanges and purchases, he obtained valuable material of lichens for the Museum.

With extraordinary activity, Albert Pilát started his well-projected work on the organisation of the existing funds and scanty mycological herbaria, which he immediately started to extend. There were mostly his own collections from Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia, and above all from the East Carpathians (formerly a part of Czechoslovakia, today of the Ukraine), but also collections by other mycologists and mushroom-pickers. Valuable material was obtained through exchange with foreign mycologists or in the form of specimens sent to him for identification, e.g. the Siberian fungi sent to the Museum by Professor Murashkinsky from Omsk. Albert Pilát has an everlasting credit for the National Museum becoming the centre of interest of all our scientific mycologists and an institute acknowledged by mycologists from all over the world. He personally took part in the elaboration of older funds and is also to be thanked for the re-discovering of Corda's forgotten collection.

Movement of collections

During World War II the Botanical Department collections including the mycological herbarium were moved to the Summer Palace in the Royal Enclosure, Prague. This was already the second transfer, as in 1934 the collections were moved from the main Museum building in Wenceslas Square to the former Pommological Institute in Prague-Troja. In May 1945 the Department of Botany was transferred to the so-called Gellert's Villa in Prague-Bubeneč, and after 1948 other transfers to temporary abodes followed. As a result of frequent transfers some fruitbodies were broken due to vibrations during transport. After all these peripetias mycological collections including the lichen herbarium returned to the depositories in the main Museum building, where they still are to be found.

Development after World War II

Type specimen (label and envelope) of Barlaea arvensis, a new species
described by Josef Velenovský (for herbarium elaborated by M. Svrček)

Type specimen (label and envelope) of Barlaea arvensis, a new species described by Josef Velenovský (for herbarium elaborated by M. Svrček)

In 1948 A. Pilát became head of the Department of Botany within which he continued developing the mycological and lichenological section. Another important contribution was the coming of Mirko Svrček (in 1946), who soon became a world-renowned specialist in ascomycetes and some groups of gill and other fungi. Under Pilát's guidance the mycological and lichenological section of the Department of Botany developed extensive collection-forming, scientific, and popularizing activities, which were shared also by many members of the Czechoslovak Scientific Society for Mycology who cooperated with the Museum and deposited their collections here.

The funds were enriched with the Department workers' own collections, exchanges with specialists abroad, and with duplicates sent to A. Pilát and M. Svrček by mycologists from all over the world. No less important were purchases and legacies, e.g. the type material of the famous botanist and mycologist Josef Velenovský (1858-1849) to his monograph on discomycetes and some of his other works.

Very important was work on the first volume of the mycological and lichenological series of Flora of the Czechoslovak Republic, where many Czech and Moravian mycologists were engaged under the leadership of A. Pilát. The organization of regular autumn mushroom exhibitions used to be an important part of work of the Museum mycologists; in the 1950's these had a high standard and were much appreciated by the public. Equally successful were atlases of mushrooms and fungi published by A. Pilát in cooperation with Otto Ušák, an excellent painter of mushrooms.

Independent Mycological Department

The Mycological Department started its independent existence in 1965, when it took over from the Department of Botany the existing collections of fungi and lichens. The overall number of fungus specimens then was 158 000, for lichens it was 122 700. A. Pilát became the head of the Department. After his death the position was taken over by Zdeněk Pouzar, until then a scientific worker of the Botanical Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences in Průhonice. He particularly developed the study of polypores, corticioid fungi, and pyrenomycetes. The collections kept extending, and the present number of specimens reaches about 500 000. Due to this, and particularly thanks to the abundance of material from some European and Asian regions, the mycological and lichenological herbarium of the National Museum belongs to the richest not only from the European, but also the world viewpoint.

Exsiccate collection "Fungi selecti exsiccati"

Distribution of the exsiccate collection "Fungi selecti exsiccati", organized in the 1970's and 1980's by M. Svrček, became an important source of valuable material from abroad. Through exchanges of rare or systematically interesting Czechoslovak species of fungi the Mycological Department obtained specimens almost from all over the world, particularly from North America. Since the 1980's the formation of the type collection started, in which type specimens of newly described species of fungi and lichens have been deposited separately. The type specimens have an utmost scientific importance and they represent the most valuable part of every herbarium.

Present activities

The present activities of the Mycological Department are aimed at three main spheres. The first one is the expert administration of the collections and their permanent extending. Collections of fungi and lichens must be regularly disinfected, otherwise they are threatened by insects and moulds if humidity rises. Disinfection is carried out by the progressive method of deep-freezing or by the classical treating with gas.

Mycological Department prepares every year 10-25 loans of herbarium material to be sent to specialists at universities, in museums and scientific institutions. The scientific works based on the study of herbarium specimens from the National Museum are published in specialised journals and scientific books.

The scientific workers of the Mycological Department often read lectures on fungi and lichens not only at universities, e.g. Charles University, Prague, but also for secondary students and at basic schools. This is the third part of the Museum work – contacts with both specialist and layman public and popularizing of mycology and lichenology. Our nation is known as the nation of mushroom-pickers and no wonder then that we often have to answer questions whether the mushrooms people have collected are edible or not. Other common questions are about the harmful character of lignicolous fungi that attack wooden constructions, fruit and forest trees. The tradition of beautiful mushroom atlases by A. Pilát has been taken over by those prepared by M. Svrček and excellently illustrated by Bohumil Vančura.

Main parts of collections

Let us take a short view of the depositories of the Mycological Department. As it was said at the beginning, the Mycological Department has no permanent exhibition; however, we participate at many exhibitions supplying there our herbarium specimens of fungi and lichens, liquid preparations, fruitbodies from the piece collection, paintings or photographs of fruitbodies, mycological literature, and archival items. These are in short the main items of our collection funds, which can in this way be presented to the wide public as the depositories are only accessible to specialists. Of course the basic part of our collections is made up by herbaria. Data on our labels are mostly given either in Latin or in some of the world languages.

Type collection

The type specimens, already mentioned before, form the most valuable part of our herbarium. We have more than 3 000 of these specimens serving as a basis for applying scientific names for newly described species of fungi and lichens. The Mycological Department can boast a large number of microscopic fungi described by A. C. J. Corda or Ph. M. Opiz, discomycetes and gill fungi described by J. Velenovský in the 1920's to 1940's, and by M. Svrček in the latter half of 20th century. Often studied are types of fungi described by A. Pilát (particularly new polypores, corticioid fungi, Agaricus and Crepidotus species) or by Z. Pouzar (pyrenomycetes, polypores, and corticioid fungi). Also the lichen collection includes numerous type specimens, particularly of species described by Miroslav Servít.

Holotype of Boletus gabretae (label and envelope with fruitbodies
inside) – new species described by Albert Pilát.

Holotype of Boletus gabretae (label and envelope with fruitbodies inside) – new species described by Albert Pilát.

Mycological herbarium

The basic mycological herbarium is very extensive. As mentioned above, the oldest specimens come from the 1820's. Since that time, representatives of almost all groups of fungi have been concentrated there. The most abundantly represented are ascomycetes from the group of discomycetes, gill fungi and boletes, polypores and non-gilled fungi, parasitic rusts and smuts, gasteromycetes, some microscopic fungi, and also slime moulds.

Agaricales

The herbarium collection of agarics and boletes is particularly large. It is quite understandable, as these are the most conspicuous and the best known among people. Our collections thus contain specimens picked not only by professional mycologists, but also by enthusiastic laymen and mushroom-pickers. At least some of the most important should be mentioned. Besides the above-cited members of the Mycological Department, there were many excellent layman mycologists such as Rudolf Veselý, Jiří Kubička, Evžen Wichanský, and also the Nestor of our modern mycologists, Josef Herink. The largest number of specimens comes from Central Bohemia, South Bohemia, and particularly from the surroundings of Prague, which is very rich in mushroom species thanks to the variable natural environment. The most interesting species from this region represented in our collection is e.g. Boletus regius with a beautifully pink-red cap, which was described by the founder of Czech scientific mycology, Vincenc J. Krombholz. Another interesting fungus described by him is the thermophilous Floccularia straminea. No less interesting are some new Agaricus species, which A. Pilát found in the spruce forests on limestone ground in the vicinity of Karlštejn Castle. We might mention for example Agaricus deylii, named in honour of the Museum botanist Miloš Deyl.

Polypores and corticioid fungi

The abundant collections by A. Pilát from East Carpathians have become the core of the world-famous collection of polypores and corticioid fungi. Local virgin forests with numerous decaying fallen trunks of ancient beeches, spruces, and firs are extremely rich in lignicolous fungi. A. Pilát described a large number of new species from there. Other Pilát's important collections come from Asia Minor, Central Asia, and Mongolia. Much valuable are the polypores from China, sent to A. Pilát by the monk Emil Licent. Even the Czech and Slovak Republics have some beautiful virgin forests such as Boubín, Žofín or Dobroč. Thanks to keen scientific contacts of our specialists the National Museum mycological herbarium has been enriched with abundant valuable material concerning polypores and corticioid fungi, particularly from North America and Scandinavia. Rich collections of polypores were scientifically evaluated particularly by Z. Pouzar and František Kotlaba, who published a great number of scientific articles on this group of fungi. In 1984, F. Kotlaba summarised all the Czech and Slovak finds of these fungi in his book "Geographical distribution and ecology of polypores (Polyporaceae s.l.) in Czechoslovakia".

Gasteromycetes

Also the collection of gasteromycetes is of great importance. The world mycolo-gical public learned about it particularly after the publication of the book "Flora of the Czechoslovak Republic – Gasteromycetes" (Praha 1959), which was edited by A. Pilát. Work on this volume stimulated our mycologists in collecting these fungi with great intensity and to supply the Museum herbarium with them.

Dried fruitbodies of earthstars (Geastrum)

Dried fruitbodies of earthstars (Geastrum)

Their activity concerned mostly earth-stars (Geastrum). Thousands of specimens of these fungi were collected by the famous Czech photographer and film director Václav J. Staněk. He even managed to describe several new species, e.g. Geastrum pouzarii. The whole Staněk's collection came into the possession of the Museum after his death.

Hypogeous fungi

Very interesting and not much known among people is the group of macroscopic soil fungi belonging to various families and having only one feature in common: they form globular fruitbodies hidden under the surface of the soil. Only few institutions can boast about having them in their collections, as they are very difficult to find. The core of our collection is formed by specimens collected by A. C. J. Corda, who furthermore obtained other valuable specimens through exchanges with the British mycologist M. J. Berkeley. From the genera described by Corda we should mention e.g. Melanogaster. The collection was further enlarged by numerous specimens supplied by the amateur mycologist Václav Vacek, who specialized in collecting these fungi in the 1950's.

Ascomycetes

The collection of discomycetes is inseparably connected with the names of J. Velenovský and M. Svrček. J. Velenovský was a professor of botany at Charles University, but he concentrated mostly on the study of fungi in the latter half of his life. He collected a large number of material, particularly from Central Bohemia, and described almost 2 000 new species of fungi. A large part of his type specimens and many other collections are to be found in our herbarium. M. Svrček collected tens of thousands of herbarium specimens from all groups of fungi, but above all the discomycetes. He used to collect throughout the whole territory of the former Czechoslovakia as well as some other European countries. He also described a number of new fungus species. Thanks to the material collected by M. Svrček and thanks to his scientific publications our collections of discomycetes are in the centre of scientific interest both here and abroad.

Lichens (lichenised fungi) and lichenicolous fungi

Herbarium of lichens consists of several independent collections which have recently been enriched by new herbarium specimens. The basis of the lichenological collection was set up by F.M. Opiz at the beginning of the 19th century. The largest herbarium within the lichenological fund is that by M. Servít (36 000 specimens), and also the collec-tions by Jindřich Suza and Alfréd Hilitzer. Lichenological collections have a great importance nowadays in connection with the evaluation of the environment in various parts of the world including the Czech Republic. This fact became evident particularly during the work on the "Red book of threatened and rare species of the Slovak and Czech Republics". The collection of lichenicolous fungi consists of old herbarium specimens as well as those collected quite recently.

Exsiccate collections

Exsiccate collections are an important part of our funds. We got into the possession of very valuable fungus and lichen material from almost all parts of the world in this way. Let us mention for example the best exsiccate collection of all times "Fungi exsiccati suecici preasertim Uppsalienses" prepared in Sweden or the recently composed collections of rare lichens from all over the world, prepared and sent to the Museum by the Moravian lichenologist of world renown, Antonín Vězda. Of the collections composed in our country the most important are those that used to be prepared and sold by the famous German-speaking mycologist of Moravian origin Franz Petrak, as well as the collection by František Bubák and Josef E. Kabát "Fungi imperfecti" from the beginning of the 20th century. All these and many other collections contain specimens of many thousands of fungal and lichen species.

Other collections

Piece collection forms a special part of the Mycological Department funds. Boxes of various size contain large fruitbodies of polypores and gasteromycetes or brittle slime moulds and some other fungi. These are often shown at various exhibitions. The largest specimen in the piece collection is a huge polypore, Ganoderma applanatum, measuring over 1 m across.

Often shown at exhibitions are also specimens in conservation liquid. Glass cylinders filled with preserving liquid contain fruitbodies of species that markedly change their shape and colour during drying and could thus hardly be exhibited in the dried form. The best for this method are members of the genera Morchella, Gyromitra, Verpa, Boletus, and Agaricus.

The Mycological Department also holds the original paintings by Otto Ušák, Rudolf Veselý, and Bohumil Dvořák (their works in Mycological Department Gallery). In the past, they were mostly reproduced in mushroom atlases and in various journals.

Conclusion

This short look at the collections and activities of the Mycological Department of the National Museum can be closed by stating that the Department nowadays belongs to important world institutions of its kind and that it has become an inseparable part of Czech science and culture.

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