It’s never too late: how the “mushroom hobby” of a retired teacher contributed to the discovery of 20 new species,


Name: Pamela CatchesideAge: 80 My first career was a long and happy one.

I started teaching at a beautiful school in London in 1962, when I was a high school teacher.

It was a great introduction to the field of teaching. Then I got married and moved to Birmingham, where at a girls’ high school I taught biology and general science.

When our daughter was born and we moved to Australia, I stopped teaching.

I wanted to go back to teaching after my son was old enough, about five or six years old.

I began in 1974 at Woodlands Girls’ School in Adelaide and remained there until the school closed for 25 years.

When the school closed, it was very emotional and sad.

It has taken a while for me to recover from that.

I was 58 years old by now and the curriculum for biology was about to change.

I didn’t want to start again, with a new program at a new school.

Some people I met who had already retired said, “Give it six months and don’t make any big decisions.” So I took it easy in some ways after the school closed. I kept in contact, however, with a State Herbarium botanist whom I had known, and I began to go and work on mushrooms there. We had an outstanding lecturer in mycology, studying fungi, when I did my undergraduate degree in London, and I had thought at the time that I could carry on with mycology, but I didn’t. The love of mushrooms remained with me, however.

While I was teaching, I sort of parked the curiosity.

I had some control over the Year 11 biology curriculum, however, and decided that in one year I would cover the entire biota, bacteria, plants, animals and, of course, fungi. I became interested in Fungimap when I was teaching, which was created in 1995 by Dr. Tom May.

It is a national society aimed at mapping Australian fungi, but also informing individuals about what fungi are and what they do.

Since I am an instructor, I really enjoyed it.

I really enjoyed going out into the field, seeing what we could find, learning about it and enjoying their company while I was with others.

I enjoyed teaching a lot, and the girls really loved getting mushrooms as a hobby, but I was looking forward to doing something of my own after teaching.

Mycology lends itself to seclusion quite well: you go out, pick, carry back things, do a lot of research.

The transition from biology teacher to special researcher was difficult, even though mushrooms were a hobby, and I had to do a lot of reading and study.

It’s something that half-heartedly you can’t do.

Pretty much every day, five days a week, I work.

Since 2002, when I was named a research associate at the State Herbarium of South Australia at the age of 60, I have been doing that.

I loved getting the discipline.

I’ve slowed down lately.

I go out into the field, bush and forest and gather mushrooms during the “mushroom season” from late May to late August, record them, store them and file them in the herbarium.

I made nearly 5,000 sets.

I have possibly discovered about 20 new species, but to completely explain each takes a considerable amount of work.

My husband does the molecular work needed now to describe new organisms.

I have identified three new species, a new genus, and also written papers on rare or interesting species. What I particularly like is to admire their beauty – some of them have the most beautiful spores. I have become an expert on a specific group of fungi called ascomycetes, especially the cup and disc fungi, often called “tube fungi.”

The majority of the disc mushrooms are pretty, but some of them are pretty bad. They’ve been known as “Pam’s little blobs.”

Although all of them look pretty similar, I like to give respect and identity to stuff. They’re out doing something really interesting out there. What I really like is their elegance to admire – some have the most stunning spurs.

One of the things I love about getting older is that what people think about me doesn’t matter to me so much.

I’d ask people who are at a career crossroads in their 50s, first, what do you think about? Think and do that, talk about what makes your tongue tingle.

If you find a gene like that,


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