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Natural dyes have been used throughout human history and can be a more environmentally friendly alternative to synthetic dyes for small-scale projects, businesses, and slow craft. Synthetic dyes were introduced for use in mass-production instead of natural dyes due to several factors including their light fastness (anti-fading) capabilities as most natural dyes fade with time and exposure to light. The downfall of synthetics is that they have a negative impact on the environment and health of people working with them. Finding less toxic dye sources is important as we use dyes for many aspects of the built environment. 

Unlike its botanical relatives, research pertaining to the potential of fungi as a dye source is relatively new. Very little has been published and most research has occurred on the East Coast in the United States. The field of fungi dye dates back to the late 1960s with Miriam Rice, a fiber artist from California, who published the first book on myco-dyes "Let's Try Mushrooms for Color." Some fungi have already proven to have superior lightfastness as compared to plants. However, the search for better dye sources is not commonly funded research nor mycology as a whole. 


A budding amateur mycologist armed with a copy of "Rainbow Beneath My Feet", a book on dye producing fungi species by Alan Bessett and Arelene Bessett, Emily's curiosity was sparked. She learned how to conduct dye experiments in 2003 while getting an BFA in fiber at the University of Missouri, Columbia with Professor Jo Stealey. In 2019, she ran her first few fungi dye experiments, displayed during the Wild Seed Field Museum residency at Milque Toast Bar in St Louis, MO. Later that year, she introduced her findings as a presenter at Brad's Fall Foray for the Missouri Mycological Society (MOMS). In 2020, she shared discoveries as part of a natural dyes display she curated with Stephanie Keil at the Missouri Botanical Garden Library in St Louis, MO.

In 2020, Emily began MAT (Science) graduate studies with Project Dragonfly through Miami University, Ohio with the Missouri Botanical Gardens Cohort. Through an extensive publication search working with advisor Susan Barron, she discovered a lack of information about fungi dyes compared to other fields of study and nearly nothing recorded about Midwestern fungi regarding their dye producing abilities. 


Fungi like plants, experience species diversity and regional differences. Taxonomy is constantly changing. Through regional exploration there is potential to discover species that are previously unknown to produce dye as these species might not exist in regions previously researched.  


The project began by compiling a DYE FUNGI MASTER DATABASE of all species previously identified to produce dye, their regions, and colors produced. The database contains nearly 300 species, making it the most comprehensive list online. Sources include information from books written by Alan Bessett, Arlean Bessett, and Miriam Rice; The North American Mycological Association (NAMA) species list, and published peer-review articles. This list is designed to expand. New contributions are welcome! 


The availability of species is heavily dependent on climate, season, and weather patterns. For this, reason dried and preserved specimens are important as they can be collected over time. Community connection has immeasurable benefits including expanding data sets and specimen availability for testing at public workshops and events. Being a part of this project gives contributors the ability to become field researchers and to contribute to science beyond the walls of academia.  


The first specimens tested for this dataset are from the North Amercian Mycological Association (NAMA) Conference in Potosi, MO and from other forays throughout 2022 in the Midwest region. The first public experiment occurred at the Flyway Farms Fungi Festival in Makanda, IL in October of 2022. The database will continue to grow as more species are tested throughout 2023.


This project loves community collaboration and is currently booking workshops and dataset collection for the 2003 year! Reach out for details. 

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