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Gertrude Simmons Burlingham (1872-1952)
by NYBG Herbarium Intern Matthew Pace

Greatly underappreciated in her time, Gertrude Simmons Burlingham helped to formulate what is today considered one of the fundamental characteristics of fungi identification: spore ornamentation, and staining of fungal spores with iodine (Seaver). These identification markers are especially important in the fungal genus Russula. Throughout her career, Burlingham contributed greatly to the study and understanding of the genera Russula and Lactaria.

Born in Mexico, NY, Burlingham received her Bachelors of Science from Syracuse University in 1898. After completing her studies, she became a biology teacher in Binghamton, NY until 1905 (Seaver). Pursuing her research of fungi further, Burlingham enrolled in the graduate program at Columbia University where she studied mycology, plant pathology, and the taxonomy of the fungal family Agaricaceae, earning her PhD in 1908. Her thesis is entitled A Study of the Lactariae of the United States and is published in the Memoirs of the Torrey Botanical Club (IMA).

Underscoring the sexist attitude of the time in science, despite her many accomplishments the scientific community remained relatively cold to her, and she went on to become a high school biology teacher in Brooklyn from 1908 until she retired in 1934 (IMA).

While and after earning her PhD, despite little formal support from the wider scientific and mycological community, Burlingham continued on in her studies of the fungi, concentrating on the genera Lactarius and Russula. She named and described over 100 species of Lactaria and Russula, and made substantial and important collections of the fungi of New York and Vermont. In addition to her genera of concentration, she was known for her wide knowledge of the fungi in general, and made important collecting trips to California, Washington, Oregon, and Sweden. These collections were extremely important because they often found new species of fungi, or expanded the documented habitat range for known fungi. Much of her research and collecting was associated with The New York Botanical Garden, and this is where the bulk of her collections remain today (Seaver).


Figure 1: Collecting Trip, location unknown


Figure 2: Collecting Trip with the Mycological Society of America. Burlingham is in the upper right


Figure 3: "Summer Foray" Collecting trip with the Mycological Society of America, 1935


Figure 4: "Key to the "Summer Foray" Collecting trip photograph, 1935




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