Western Newfoundland is a haven for rare mushroom species

Gary Kean gkean@thewesternstar.com
Published on June 9, 2014

April Muirhead admits she’s not an expert mycologist, but her interest in mushrooms is certainly growing.

After attending mushroom forays the last two Septembers, the Corner Brook woman now finds herself in the midst of studying some varieties of morel mushrooms in western Newfoundland that have never been seen in Canada before until recently.

In fact, one of those morels is “hitherto unknown to science,” according to Foray Newfoundland and Labrador, an amateur organization that studies mushrooms in the province.

According to the group, there are three species of morels in the province. Two have not been officially described before, although the DNA of one had been identified earlier from Scandinavia, China and the state of Washington. All three are found in western Newfoundland. The interesting one also found in other locations has been found in Corner Brook, the Port au Port Peninsula and on an island on the Naskaupi River in Labrador.

The one that’s even lesser known to science has been found in the Corner Brook, Humber Village, Steady Brook and Gros Morne areas. Specimens have also recently since been found in New Brunswick, so the mushroom is not unique to the island of Newfoundland.


Muirhead has an environmental science degree from Grenfell Campus, Memorial University and followed that up with a diploma in geographic information systems from the College of the North Atlantic in Corner Brook. For her major GIS assignment, she asked people to describe the habitats where they were finding mushrooms and produced a project predicting where different kinds of mushrooms might be found in western Newfoundland.

Muirhead worked with the foray’s database team and many of the other people there were among those who had helped provide her information for the GIS project.

Recently, Andrus Voitk, Foray Newfoundland and Labrador’s past-president and editor of the group’s Omphalina newsletter, asked Muirhead and Darin Brooks, the GIS program instructor at College of the North Atlantic, to do a comparative study of the two most interesting morels in the only place where they’re both known to exist.

“It’s pretty cool that there is not much known about them and they are right here,” said Muirhead as she checked out the slowly decomposing remains of the morels known so far only as Mel-36.

The Mel-36 morel is the one found only in western Newfoundland and New Brunswick so far.

“In a couple of weeks, there should be Mel-19 mushrooms here,” said Muirhead of the anticipated arrival of the other rare species.

The comparative study being done by Muirhead and Brooks will likely be a topic of discussion at the next provincial mushroom foray to be held in Gros Morne in September.




Most morels seem to be parochial in nature, apparently adapting to their particular environment and habitat through an evolutionary process of natural selection. The result is a large number of species, each in its own region.

Mel-36 is one of these. Initially we only knew if from the Island, so a name reflecting Newfoundland seemed appropriate. However, subsequently we had a specimen sent in by Dave Malloch from New Brunswick, which proved to be the same species. Although a name reflecting where it was first discovered is still acceptable, a name reflecting its distribution might be more appropriate. You decide—make your choice from the following epithet candidates to come after Morchella:

— enelensis (en = N, el = L, ensis = from; i.e. from Newfoundland)

— eselensis (es = S = Saint, el = L = Lawrence; i.e. from the St. Lawrence basin)

— laurentiana (laurentian, i.e. of the [St.] Lawrence area; a more traditional name in biology)

— maritima (maritime, i.e. from the Maritime Provinces, or maritime region, if found from New England later on)

Mel-19 is different, seeming to be able to make a home in all three continents in the northern hemisphere. It is the only morel species known to remain the same across the seas. To reflect this unique feature, choose among these potential epithets:

— cosmopolitana (well travelled)

— eohespera (eos = sunrise/east, hesperis = sunset/west; ie found in both the East and the West)

— oikogaia or ecogaia (oikos = home, gaia = earth; ie at home in all the world)

— sempereadem (semper = always, eadem = the same)

— sophisticata (world traveller)

— transoceana (across the oceans)


Ultimately the right, privilege, responsibility and fun of selecting and proposing a new name belongs to the author(s) describing the species, but most have assured us that they have no strong feelings, and find any of the listed names acceptable. Therefore, your vote may be the deciding factor, and the authors may only have to step in to break a tie.

To our knowledge, this is the first naming of a species by popular vote, so here is your chance to be part of a historic occasion.

Choose your favourite from these lists and send to foray@nlmushrooms.ca.

If you cannot decide between two names, send both. Or three.

Source: Omphalina