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Kids and legislators alike celebrate Vermont's new state mushroom

The bear's head tooth, pictured here in Pennsylvania, may soon be immortalized in statute as Vermont's official state mushroom.
As of May 2024, bear's head tooth is officially Vermont's official state mushroom.

Vermont has lots of state symbols – some familiar, like the state bird (hermit thrush) or the state beverage (milk). Others are a bit more obscure, like the state fly fishing fly (the Governor Aiken Bucktail Streamer).

In early May of this year, Vermont became the sixth state to officially designate a state mushroom: bear's head tooth, a white, long-toothed mushroom indigenous to Vermont.

Democratic state rep. Michelle Bos-Lun of Westminster, an avid forager and former teacher, led the charge to codify a state mushroom. On Vermont Edition, she said the bill created an opportunity "to help get people interested in mushrooms, which will get them in the woods, get them active, and get them caring about our world."

She worked with students at Windham Elementary and the Compass School to research mushrooms and vote on their top pick. Bear's head tooth came out a clear winner.

Charles and George Pelton of Windham, both seven, participated in the vote. They told Vermont Edition that the mushroom looks like a "fuzzy tooth" or a waterfall, and it stands out for three different reasons.

"It is found locally, and it is in the family Hericium americanum. And I forgot the last one," Charles said. "And no poisonous lookalikes!" George added.

"Oh, I remembered the last one," Charles chimed back in. "It has medical cause." (The bear's head tooth could have medicinal properties. The Hericium genus of mushrooms produces compounds that are being studied for use in treatment of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.)

Bos-Lun took her young lobbyists to the Montpelier statehouse to present on the mushroom in committee. They also had the chance to meet with Gov. Phil Scott by Zoom. She said the process helped bring legislators together.

"I had all these people literally reaching across the aisle and talking to me about mushrooms," she said. "I mean, I'm a Democrat. And I tend to be on the left side of the spectrum. And I had all these folks that usually represent sort of a different political perspective than me coming forward and talking about foraging, and where I might find this mushroom, and how did I cook it. And suddenly we had this common language."

"We found something we agreed about," she continued, "and it's a good start. And that will make it easier, I think, for us to work together in the future. The other I would just say is that a lot of people really do care about mushrooms."

Broadcast live on Wednesday, May 15, 2024, at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

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Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.