@UAShrooms Instagram account brings attention to mushrooms and fungi on campus 

Savannah Ichikawa, Staff Reporter

The University of Alabama has a rich natural environment that flourishes during the summer and fall. The recent increase in rain that marks the start of autumn encourages new plant and fungi growth, allowing them to thrive on campus. 

While a lot of strategy goes into the planning, execution and maintenance of the campus landscape, much of the natural environment often gets overlooked by students. 

Rory English, a UA junior majoring in biology, has recently brought awareness to fungi on campus by creating an Instagram account called @uashrooms 

The account is a new way to engage students with the campus environment. English features mushrooms she finds around campus with brief captions describing where they were found and facts about them. 

“I was walking, and I would see them and take pictures and post them all on my Snapchat story, and my friends really liked them,” English said. “There’s a lot of phobia around mushrooms, but there are some that have really cool benefits.” 

Halle Hallmark, English’s roommate, said she encouraged English to make the account because of her obvious passion for mycology, or the study of fungi. 

“I followed because it is interesting to see how many mushrooms are around this area,” Hallmark said. “My favorite part about following is discovering more about indigenous species of mushrooms in Tuscaloosa.” 

English said she loves biology and uses an app on her phone called iNaturalist, which identifies different species of fungi on campus before documenting them for her followers. She finds them under bushes and shaded areas on campus and likes to look out for them when she takes her dog on walks around the University. 

“Just walk around and look down,” English said. “You’ll see them everywhere and once you start seeing them, you can’t stop.” 

English said mushrooms have many benefits for people’s health and the environment. They live in association with the trees and plants around them and help deliver nutrients to them. 

A recent post on Sept. 3 featuring bolete mushrooms found near B.B. Comer depicts large, round, light brown mushrooms. On the account, English identified them as golden milkcaps and explained they are one of her favorites because of the way they turn up at the edges as they mature and grow to look like bowls. 

“Mushrooms are decomposers and break down all that organic material,” English said. “They are really great for the environment and also really great for humans.” 

Another post on the account on Sept. 8 shows one small red mushroom that was found outside of Shelby Hall. English included a picture of the middle of the mushroom oxidizing and staining blue after it was sliced down the middle. 

English even has a post from Aug. 27 that explains the dangers of false parasol mushrooms. Found outside Target, English took pictures of the white mushrooms with triangular caps and stated that they are the number one case of mushroom poisoning each year.  

By researching and learning more about mushrooms, students can learn to spot the difference between poisonous mushrooms and harmless ones, although it’s still advised to stay away if you’re not entirely sure. 

English said she is happy to post pictures that people send into the account, and the Instagram has become a fun way for people to interact with plant life and learn more about the University’s campus environment.  

“I love nature, and I’ve been noticing the mushrooms around campus as well, so I found it interesting that an account was made,” said Piper Brantley, a senior majoring in marketing. 

Brantley said her favorite part about the account is watching the videos English posts, and she has even thought about sending her own pictures of mushrooms into the account since she is very interested in the plants, flowers and mushrooms of Tuscaloosa.  

John Friel, the director of the Alabama Museum of Natural History, said Alabama is an incredibly biodiverse state and that it’s important for people to observe the natural world around them and care for the environment. 

“There are all kinds of things happening here,” Friel said. “There are Earth Day celebrations and various student groups that are promoting all kinds of activities to help the environment.”  

Friel said he has an interest in learning about ways to engage the public with the environment so they can get involved and learn more about the biodiversity all around them. 

Friel started the University of Alabama Campus Biodiversity Survey a few years ago to give students a way to observe and document nature. Participants can upload pictures of plants to iNaturalist to find out the species type and share the observation with others.  

“We live in an area where we’re so distracted by technology, but the reality is we’re all parts of nature whether we want to accept it or not,” Friel said. “We should be concerned about what’s happening in our environment.” 

Friel said he wants students to recognize how beautiful the University’s campus is and hopes that they do their part to help keep it that way. 

“The idea is we just want to reconnect people with the natural world,” Friel said. “I encourage students to come out, we are free for students so there is no cost, and you can visit the exhibits.” 

With exhibits in geology, paleontology and contemporary biodiversity, the museum wants to encourage students to reconnect to the natural world. This year, they have introduced the “Marble Bowl,” a competition between Auburn and Alabama fans. 

The Marble Bowl is a way for people to document and observe the world around them by taking pictures on their phones and submitting them to iNaturalist. The UA Shrooms Instagram account is an example of the types of pictures students can take and upload to the iNaturalist app that would count as observations for the Marble Bowl. 

UA Shrooms is making an impact on students at the University who have an interest in mycology and the natural environment.  

English said she recently joined the Alabama Mushroom Society and would love to see a similar organization for UA students. 

To learn more about the Museum of Natural History and upcoming events, click here.