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Spring 2014
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From Puffballs to Pleurottes
The Frenchman who documented the fungus among us.

By Sarah Baldwin-Beneich
Photography by Paul Clancy

From an iconic red toadstool flecked with white to scalloped growths like ladies’ fans, the precise and subtle illustrations in Claude Casimir Gillet’s guide are so sweet it’s easy to forget that a mushroom is really the fleshy, flowering fruit of a fungus.

Gillet’s 1890 book, Les champignons(Fungi, Hyménomycètes) qui croissent en France, is just one volume in the Snell collectionon mycology, donated by WalterH. Snell ’13, Stephen T. Olney Professor ofBotany. The collection of some 300 monographs and serials documents the study of all sorts of fungi, from medical to culinary,  between 1640 and 1970. Botanical study figures prominently in the Library’s collections. According to the History of Science Collection brochure, “The connections between botany and medicine were first recognized in the appointment of Solomon Drowne as Professor of Materia Medica and Botany in 1811.  Although the first medical school at Brown was disbanded by President Wayland in 1827, botanical study was reestablished … 50 years later under William Whitman Bailey, who created the Brown University Herbarium. Over the next century, the Herbarium was a major contributor to the worldwide project to catalog and classify all known species of plants.”
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