Porcini for Utah State Mushroom!

The Utah Legislature

Utah has a state flower, a state insect, a state fossil, even a state winter sport, but no state mushroom! Given Utah’s wealth of biodiversity and natural resources, and that fungi are essential to maintaining biodiversity, it’s time that we champion them. Let’s recognize one of life’s major kingdoms and declare porcini as Utah’s official state mushroom!

Fungi make up one of life’s kingdoms – as broad a category as “animals” or “plants” – but they are substantially less known than those kingdoms: less than five percent of fungus species have been described.

Fungi underpin life on Earth and play many critically important ecological roles. Over 200 million lives have been saved due to the world’s most famous fungus, Penicillium, the source of the world’s first antibiotic (penicillin). Fungi are also responsible for almost all of our food production from supporting plant growth and through their byproducts used throughout the food industry. Without fungi, and the plants that depend on them, CO2 would build up much faster than it is currently, greatly exacerbating climate change impacts. Fungi are being called the “next climate hero”, and over 2,000 new fungus species are discovered each year.

Though fungi are their own kingdom of life on earth, and plants, animals, trees, and entire ecosystems depend on relationships with them for their survival, they are overlooked and dangerously vulnerable to extinction. We know that many of an estimated 2-10 million fungus species are threatened or endangered, yet only 550 of the 142,500 species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List are fungi, and the U.S. only has two, both lichens, on the endangered species list. Unless we have a state mushroom and elevate fungi in public awareness, we might lose the benefits of fungi for our state and for our planet.

A Worldwide Movement

The critical importance of fungi to people and the planet is receiving widespread attention in movies like Fantastic Fungi, books like Entangled Life, and periodicals like National Geographic, The New York Times – even Vogue! The fungal awakening is happening and organizations like Fungi Foundation, Fungal Diversity Survey, the Society for Protection of Underground Networks, are calling for adequate representation of fungi in science, education, conservation, and political representation.

Utah could be on the leading edge of this movement towards fungal justice. There are only three states with official state mushrooms (MN, OR, TX), and at least four more with proposed state mushrooms right now (CA, MO, WA, and NY). By elevating fungi at the state-level, public awareness of fungi and their importance will surge. Children will learn about the transdisciplinary significance of fungi at an early age by learning about Utah’s State Mushroom in Utah schools. By designating an official state fungus, Utah will be able to better advocate for scientific decision-making that will help make our environment more resilient and nourishing for generations to come.

What are Porcini?

Porcini mushrooms (Boletus edulis) are beautiful and delicious, and grow abundantly in the Rocky Mountains, including along the Wasatch front, the Uintas, and in the montane coniferous forests throughout the central and southern regions of Utah. Porcini are brown-capped mushrooms with white to yellow pores and have thick white stems with reticulation, or a raised, net-like pattern. Porcini are one of the most prized wild edible mushrooms admired all around the world, and genetic research on them is being pioneered here in Utah. Collecting wild porcini in Utah’s mountains is a favored pastime for many Utahns, and recognizing this alongside the many other outdoor activities Utah is so well-known for would further enrich our state’s reputation as a wilderness paradise.

Porcini are Critical to Forest Health

Porcini are mycorrhizal, meaning they form an obligate mutualistic symbiosis with plant roots, providing essential nutrients and water from the soil in exchange for sugar the plants make through photosynthesis. This ancient and ubiquitous relationship allowed plants to first colonize land and today is the primary symbiosis supporting our forests. This essential partnership makes Utah’s mountain forests more resilient to perturbation and will be a critical factor as our state’s ecosystems adapt to a changing climate. This is why Utah should acknowledge this fundamental and critical collaboration by nominating porcini as the official state mushroom!

Porcini are noteworthy because they serve a vital role in maintaining a healthy and vibrant forest ecosystem through their symbiotic partnership with subalpine fir, Engelmann spruce, and other conifers. Up to 50% of the living biomass of soils are fungi like porcini that form these mycorrhizal networks. These networks play crucial roles in improving nutrient exchange, sequestering carbon, and balancing ecosystem health, connectivity, and regeneration. The presence of porcini is an indicator of forest health. Its recognition as a state symbol may instill greater awareness of the health of our forests.

It is time that we recognize the central role fungi have in Utah’s unique biodiversity and declare Porcini as Utah’s state mushroom!

Sponsored by
Salt Lake City, UT

To: The Utah Legislature
From: [Your Name]

It is time that we recognize the central role fungi have in Utah’s unique biodiversity and declare Porcini as Utah’s state mushroom!