A Passion for Fungi


Beatrix Potter (1866–1943)
Amanita crocea (yellow grisette) and Amanita muscaria (scarlet fly cap), Ullock, Cumbria,
September 2–3, 1897
Watercolor, white heightening, and graphite
V&A: Linder Bequest BP.244
Image courtesy of Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd.


One of the most interesting aspects of Beatrix Potter’s life is her interest in mycology, the study of fungi. Historically, fungi have been overlooked in favor of plants and the study of botany. This was true in Beatrix Potter’s time and is often still the case today. But Beatrix was drawn to these humble organisms, with their underground mycelium shooting forth from the soil in the fruiting bodies of mushrooms. Some of her most vibrant natural historical drawings depict fungi in a scientifically accurate manner, showing cross-sections and spores.

Her fascination with fungi is revealed in her correspondence with the naturalist Charles MacIntosh. In one of these letters she describes a mushroom she grew in the dark:

“It is a pale straw colour, grown entirely in the dark, and there are nearly 100 ‘fingers’, the longest measure 1 1/4 inch. Miss Potter wonders whether it grows out of doors at this season or whether it is brought out by the heat of the room? It was about this size when first observed but being moved into a hot cupboard near the kitchen chimney, it puffed out in a very odd shape.”