Gov. Phil Scott signs the mushroom bill in his ceremonial office. Looking on via Zoom are students who selected the proposed species to designate as state mushroom and testified in the bill’s favor.
Courtesy photo
Gov. Phil Scott signs the mushroom bill in his ceremonial office. Looking on via Zoom are students who selected the proposed species to designate as state mushroom and testified in the bill’s favor.

A state mushroom bill provides common ground

There is much to appreciate about mushrooms, including the bear’s head tooth — the species that area students decided should be the Vermont state mushroom

Rep. Michelle Bos-Lun (D-Windham-3) is a second-term representative for Westminster, Rockingham, and Brookline. She is a teacher, gardener, forager, and grower of mushrooms.

WESTMINSTER-Vermont has a new state symbol: Hericium americanum, also known as bear's head tooth, a white, long-toothed mushroom indigenous to Vermont.

Students from kindergarten through eighth grade helped move forward this legislation to help Vermont become the sixth state with a State Mushroom.

This new state symbol was determined after I made multiple school visits to middle schoolers at the Compass School in Westminster and students at the Windham Elementary School in the fall of 2023.

Students learned about and discussed mushrooms and the legislative process with me and with one another. After careful consideration and debate, students at both schools selected the bear's head tooth as the best fungus to represent Vermont.

In choosing a state mushroom, the students had strong preferences about what they wanted for a new state mushroom. They wanted to choose a variety that:

• Is edible.

• Has medicinal qualities. (Bear's head tooth can be used for healing wounds and to treat neurological issues.)

• Has no toxic lookalikes.

• Can be found in our natural environment. (Bear's head tooth is native to the Northeast of North America.)

• Can be cultivated. (Many mushrooms found in the wild cannot be domesticated.)

• Grows on trees. (This was a request of a younger student who noted that Vermont has a lot of trees, and trees are important.)

• Is distinctive and unique.

With long white tendrils that grow downward from trees or downed logs, Hericium americanum has a unique appearance - students likened it to "a waterfall or like icicles or fireworks." All of these qualities made the bear's head tooth appealing to students as a symbol for Vermont.

The students were surprised that both Oregon and California chose versions of the chanterelle for their respective state mushrooms. We have more than one type of chanterelle here in Vermont, but the students were not interested in a mushroom similar to ones chosen by other states.

Bear's head tooth was the mushroom that met all their criteria. It fit the bill! (Literally.) H.664 was introduced by me with 12 bipartisan co-sponsors on Jan. 5, 2024.

Six students aged 7 to 14 testified for both the House and Senate Agriculture committees during the spring 2024 legislative session.

When visiting the Vermont State House to testify, students met with Secretary of State Sarah Copeland Hanzas and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman. Students involved in the project were also able to remotely watch the governor sign the bill on May 7 in his ceremonial office.

* * *

There is much to appreciate about mushrooms, and much to appreciate about bear's head tooth!

Mushrooms can be a healthy motivation for thousands of Vermonters and visitors to engage with and in our natural world. Foraging, mushroom identification, and mycography (photographing mushrooms) are all ways people can be active and connect with nature.

Thousands of Vermonters forage and cultivate mushrooms. My own fungi fascination emerged during the pandemic, when I took many walks in the woods while our world was in a state of separation and isolation. I hope this new state symbol and recognition increases interest from Vermonters to learn about our world through mushroom quests.

There are mushrooms (including bear's head tooth) that appear to slow cancer growth and alleviate neurological issues. Native Americans have used bear's head tooth to prevent infections of wounds for centuries.

In nature, mycelium - complex networks of fungus mostly on the forest floor - connects plants and trees. For humans, too, I have found that mushrooms can provide connection.

I have had mushroom conversations in the statehouse with individuals from every party. Interest in H.664 mushroomed, popping up in far more places than I expected. Hunters, trappers, vegetarians, and animal activists - we've found common ground discussing mushrooms that emerge from Vermont's soil and trees.

Vermont experts testifying in support of the bill included a state botanist, a University of Vermont ecology professor, representatives from the Agency of Agriculture, Food, & Markets and Vermont Fish & Wildlife, and educators of foraging and mycology.

They all agreed that the students made an excellent choice.

* * *

Fungi hold a distinct role in our ecosystem. Hericium americanum will effectively represent the fungi kingdom as our new state symbol.

Many organisms in the plant and animal kingdoms are already recognized as state symbols, but the fungi kingdom - which includes millions of life forms -previously had no state symbol representation.

Youth engaging in our legislative process and understanding that our government can represent their interests is important. I thank the students of Windham and Compass for their careful consideration and wise nomination of bear's head tooth. I am especially thankful to the six students from Westminster, Bellows Falls, Quechee, and Windham who carefully prepared and presented testimony and answered questions from representatives and senators.

I have worked on more important legislation than the State Mushroom Bill, but I am proud to raise awareness about and interest in the importance of fungi. I am also grateful to have helped students participate in this piece of Vermont history.

This Voices Legislative Update was submitted to The Commons.

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