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Science and the Environment

Avid Mushroom Hunter, Photographer to Speak in Springfield

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A photographer and author, known for his focus on fungi, will be at the  Springfield Conservation Nature Center Thursday night, September 6.  Taylor Lockwood will present the program, "My Great Adventure:  Hunting the World's Most Beautiful Mushrooms" at 7 p.m.  It's presented, in part, by the Missouri Mycological Society.  Registration is required at (417) 888-4237.

Lockwood desribes the program as "very much alive, fast moving" and not a "boring, mushroom lecture."

Lockwood travels the world photographing mushrooms.  KSMU spoke with him while he was somewhere in Tennessee headed to Springfield.

He said the program will feature lots of photographs he’s taken all over the world and in the U.S., particularly of bioluminescent mushrooms.  And he’ll show video from recent trips to Costa Rica, New Zealand and Borneo.

During those travels, he found something spectacular, "a big tree that was covered in bioluminescent mycelium from the ground all the way to the canopy, about 30, 40 feet high," he said.  Those who attend the program will see a photo of it.

Lockwood has been interested in mushrooms since 1984 and started his career photographing fungi and writing books about it after playing in bands in California.  He'd always been interested in art.  He'll talk about how he came to use photography "to let the world know how beautiful mushrooms are" during the Thursday night program, he said.

The appeal of mushroom hunting varies depending on who you ask, according to Lockwood.  For some it's the edibility factor, for others, the scientific side, for some it's the history and for others it may be the psychoactive side, "and this is one of the most beautiful things about mushrooms and mushrooming is that there are many different facets to them, and, basically, they're all positive," said Lockwood.

While some mushrooms are toxic when consumed, Lockwood said, a person can learn which ones to avoid.  He suggests joining a local mushroom club and learning from experts.

His interest in mushrooms has developed into a hunt for those that are bioluminescent, wherever they can be found, including in the United States.

"We have several species of bioluminescent mushrooms here, and I've photographed almost all of them," Lockwood said.

A photo of a bioluminescent mushroom he took in Brazil was recently featured on a U.S. postage stamp, part of the Bioluminescent Life series.  It's the first mushroom photograph on a U.S. postage stamp, according to Lockwood.   He's also had photos published in National Geographic Magazine.

Mushroom hunting is addictive, he said.  When people go on a foray, according to Lockwood, they may be looking for something specific, but they often find something unexpected.

"I joke about having a touch of illumicy as opposed to lunacy because of the bioluminescent mushrooms that I find," he said.  "And it is absolutely addictive to find free growing mushrooms in a darkened forest.  This is very, very special.  There's only about one out of 1000 different species of fungi that actually grow like that, and they almost all glow the same color, a certain color of green."

He has a great career, he said, pursuing what he's passionate about, but it certainly hasn't made him wealthy.  He drives an old van, which he sleeps in as he travels the country talking to people about mushrooms.  He planned to sleep at a Missouri park Wednesday night before he arrived in Springfield for the program.  But he loves what he does.  He described himself as a healthy 72-year-old and said he'll keep photographing mushrooms for as long as is possible.

"I'm just going for it as much as I can," said Lockwood.  "I just want to get the shots because at some point, you know, you can't climb the hills, you can't do this, you can't do that, but if you have the photos and video, you can make programs that show people for the rest of your life and beyond."