Dispatches from Hawai’i: Studying fungi in Hawai’i

This is the third article in a 4-part series on the fungi of Hawai’i from a Pacific Northwest perspective.  This article discusses the history and current study of macrofungi in Hawai’i from an amateur’s perspective.

How does one study fungi on an island where the only book covering local mushrooms is out of print, there are no mushroom clubs, there is no active mycologist, and internet resources are scarce?  It takes effort! What follows is a brief description of the recent study of macrofungi in Hawai’i, the resources available, and the current state of mycological research in Hawai’i.

By 1990, fewer than 100 agarics and boletes had been described from Hawai’i when Dr. Don Hemmes and Dr. Dennis Desjardin received a National Science Foundation Grant to study the Agaricales of Hawai’i.  Their research was published in nine journal articles between 1992 and 2011 under the title, Agaricales of the Hawaiian Islands. Along the way, they authored Mushrooms of Hawai’i, recording over 300 species by 2002, and many more since.

Photo 1

Mushrooms of Hawai’i is the best (and only) book available specifically on Hawaiian fungi. The fungi are grouped by habitat zones including sphagnum bogs, like where this Galerina sp. was found.

Mushrooms of Hawai’i remains the best resource for mushroom enthusiasts throughout the islands, although it is certainly not comprehensive and is beginning to show its age (two of its broad statements that there are no native ectomycorrhizal fungi and that there are no native edible fungi are likely incorrect; also, DNA analysis was not performed in many cases and conspicuous introductions such as F. calocera have occurred after its publication). Unfortunately, the book is out of print, and as of this writing is over $180.00 for a used copy on Amazon.com.

Photo 2

Brian Perry’s Fungi of the Hawaiian Islands website is another place to go for photos of fungi from native wet montane forests like these Rhodocollybia laulaha.  Unfortunately, the site is not currently maintained.

Another resource with color photos (over 75 species, some overlap with Mushrooms of Hawai’i and some are unique) is an unmaintained website made by Brian Perry, a mycologist who was located at the University of Hawai’i Hilo (now at California State University East Bay).  The website is still available through the internet archive and I have heard rumors that an updated live website is in the planning.

Another internet resource with great potential is the Fungi of the Hawaiian Islands specimen portal of the Consortium of Pacific Herbaria, but there are currently very few photos and taxonomic descriptions are taken directly from Mushrooms of Hawai’i.

Photo 3

Multiple journal articles exist regarding the earthstars of Hawai’i, such as this Geastrum sp. fruiting under Casuarina.

Finally, there are journal articles.  There are articles focusing on Hawai’i: descriptions of new macrofungi, fungal ecology, mycorrhizal fungi, etc.  There are also articles focusing on particular groups of fungi with a broader scope that may include Hawaiian material (this is how they discovered Hawai’i’s Laetiporus may be unique, as described in the post on edibles).

photo 4

Amanita marmorata, a potentially deadly species found near Eucalyptus and Casuarina.

Two articles on groups of Hawaiian fungi that do include great color photos are, “Annotated List of Boletes and Amanita in the Hawaiian Islands” and “Stinkhorns of the Hawaiian Islands” published in North American Fungi and Fungi Magazine respectively.

photo 5

Hygrocybe lamalama growing in moss. (Or is it?)

With a lack of photos from reliable sources in Hawai’i, one may try the next most obvious place: Google.  Unfortunately, this usually won’t work because there are so few photos of native fungi, or no reliable sources.  For example, searching for some of Hawai’i’s unique fungi in the family Hygrophoraceae such as Hygrocybe lamalama will yield you only photos from one person: me (and am I 100% certain I am correct with my identification? No!).

There is also a Facebook Group, Mycologists of Hawai’i, although identification help can be scarce. 

Regarding Facebook, social media, and clickbait in general, if you were able to avoid hearing about the “amazing Hawaiian mushroom that causes spontaneous orgasms in women” over the past year, congratulations!  This has been thoroughly debunked (at least in my opinion) in many places, most entertainingly in articles by Christie Wilcox and Debbie Veiss.

For me, the lack of available information sometimes provides motivation to continue digging deeper, other times it is a deterrent and makes it easier to throw my hands up and ask rhetorically “who knows?” with a good chance that the answer is actually nobody.

photo 6

This undescribed collybioid is extremely common and abundant in the native wet forests of Kohala Mountain year-round.  It is not described.

The 1990’s and 2000’s appear to be the golden years for mycological research in Hawai’i. After Dr. Hemmes wrote “A Burst of Mycological Activities in Hawai’i in the 1990’s” summarizing recent research and continuing to add new records and species descriptions throughout the 2000’s, research on Hawai’i Island has certainly slowed.  Following Dr. Hemmes retirement and Brian Perry’s move to the mainland, there is no mycologist on Hawai’i Island.  This is unfortunate because as Dr. Hemmes noted in his last paper in the series Agaricales of the Hawaiian Islands: “As intensive field studies focused on documenting the native mushrooms of Hawai`i continue, we suspect that more unique species will be encountered.”

Photo 7

A Hawaiian Hawk soars above a native wet montane forest dominated by Ohia (Metrosideros polymorpha) on Kohala Mountain.

These intensive field studies have stopped on Hawai’i Island, where the most variety in climate zones occurs, and where the least-disturbed habitats can be explored, including the wet montane native forests where the archipelago’s unique species have primarily been found.  Unfortunately, loss of native vegetation throughout the islands has been extensive, in many areas is ongoing, and novel threats continue to arrive in the islands. Hawai’i is often described as the extinction capital of the world, and as many native plants have become endangered or extinct, we will not know if any associated fungi have joined them if they are never documented.

Although there is not a mycologist on Hawai’i Island, exciting finds are still occurring elsewhere, and there is at least one dedicated mycology laboratory at UH Manoa (Hynson Lab) and another lab that includes work on fungi (Ahmed Lab).  The most recent major development from Hynson Lab is the discovery of native ectomycorrhizal fungi: four species occurring with the endemic tree Pisonia sandwicensis including familiar genera from the mainland: Russula, Rhizopogon, and Clavulina.

Photo 8

A beautiful two-toned orange Pluteus from Kohala Mountain.

photo 9

A beautiful two-toned orange Pluteus from Kohala Mountain.

Macrofungi are waiting to be discovered and described, whether native or introduced.  With thousands of introduced plants and some large swaths of remaining native forest where over 90% of the native vegetation is endemic, there are certainly more species to be discovered.  Although it appears the Agaricales of the Hawaiian Islands series has stopped for now, many groups in the Agaricales remain to be monographed and researched.  For example, a variety of pluteoid fungi occur in native forests.  Zero have been described.

Photo 10

Ohia in bloom.

Photo 11

Ohia blossom beginning to open.

Photo 12

Trees die so quickly from Rapid Ohia Death that leaves still remain after the entire organism has been killed.

The importance of fungi (albeit not macrofungi) is glaring Hawai’i island residents in the face with the spread of Rapid Ohia Death.  Ohia is the most common native tree throughout the Hawaiian Islands and is iconic of the archipelago (think of Douglas fir for the Pacific Northwest).  It is a colonizing species on recent lava flows as well as the dominant or codominant tree in mature Hawaiian Forests.  The fungus, Ceratocystis fimbriata, has killed thousands of acres of trees with no signs of slowing.  Trees die within weeks of infection and potential for near 100% mortality in an infected stand within two to three years is possible.  Although present on Hawai’i Island since 2013, the method of transmission is still not fully understood, and there remains no way to cure infected trees.  $300,000.00 in funding was just approved by the state legislature for additional research to stop its spread.

Jeff Stallman is a super picky PSMS member since 2009 and former Board Member. He has been exploring the fungi of Hawai’i since moving to the big island in 2014, and will be sharing his experiences with us. His series will be published the second Sunday of each month.


Banik, M. T., D. L. Lindner, Y. Ota, and T. Hattori. “Relationships among North American and Japanese Laetiporus Isolates Inferred from Molecular Phylogenetics and Single-spore Incompatibility Reactions.” Mycologia 102.4 (2010): 911-17. Web.

Desjardin, Dennis E., and Don E. Hemmes. “Agaricales of the Hawaiian Islands. 4: Hygrophoraceae.” Mycologia 89.4 (1997): 615. Web.

Desjardin, Dennis E., Roy E. Halling, and Don E. Hemmes. “Agaricales of the Hawaiian Islands. 5. The Genera Rhodocollybia and Gymnopus.” Mycologia 91.1 (1999): 166. Web.

Desjardin, D. E., and D. E. Hemmes. “Agaricales of the Hawaiian Islands 9. Five New White-spored Species from Native Montane Wet Forests.” Mycologia 103.6 (2011): 1441-450. Web.

Hayward, Jeremy, and Nicole A. Hynson. “New Evidence of Ectomycorrhizal Fungi in the Hawaiian Islands Associated with the Endemic Host Pisonia Sandwicensis (Nyctaginaceae).” Fungal Ecology 12 (2014): 62-69. Web.

Hemmes, Don E. “A BURST OF MYCOLOGICAL ACTIVITIES IN HAWAI’I IN THE 1990’s.” Harvard Papers in Botany 6.1 (2001): 117-22. JSTOR. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.

Hemmes, Donald. “Annotated List of Boletes and Amanita in the Hawaiian Islands.” North American Fungi (Vol. 3:7, 2008): 167-76. Web.

Hemmes, D. E., and D. E. Desjardin. “Earthstars (Geastrum, Myriostoma) of the Hawaiian Islands Including Two New Species, Geastrum Litchiforme and Geastrum Reticulatum (1.” Pacific Science 65.4 (2011): 477-96. Web.

Hemmes, Don E., and Dennis E. Desjardin. Mushrooms of Hawai’i: An Identification Guide. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2002. Print.

Hemmes, Don E., and Dennis E. Desjardin. “Stinkhorns of the Hawaiian Islands.” Fungi (Volume 2:3 Summer 2009): 8-10. Web



Smith, Clifford W., and Patricio Ponce De Leon. “Hawaiian Geastroid Fungi.” Mycologia 74.5 (1982): 712. Web.

Veiss, Debbie. “Sex and the Single Stinkhorn.” Mushroom Journal of Wild Mushrooming (Vol. 31:4 Fall 2015: 16-21. Print.

Wilcox, Christie. “Expedition Ecstasy: Sniffing Out The Truth About Hawai’i’s Orgasm-Inducing Mushroom.” Science Sushi. Discover Magazine Blog, 14 Feb. 2016. Web. 01 May 2016.