Iowa’s Own Mushroom Expert: Lois Tiffany

Last week, some of you may have listened to Terry Gross interview botanist Nicholas Money on Fresh Air about his research of molds, mushrooms and other fungi. Did you know that Iowa State’s own Professor Lois Tiffany was highly regarded as an expert in mushrooms and other fungi here in Iowa?  The papers of Iowa native and long-time Iowa State University professor Lois Hattery Tiffany were processed last year, and the finding aid for the L. H. (Lois Hattery) Tiffany Papers is available online.

Lois Tiffany

Fondly called “The Mushroom Lady,” Tiffany specialized in mycology (the study of fungi) and taught botany at Iowa State for over fifty years beginning in 1950. Her research included studies of fungal diseases of native prairie plants in Iowa, a 10-year survey of Iowa’s morels, and a study of the fungus flora of Big Bend National Park in Texas. She also participated in the Midwestern mushroom aflatoxin studies of both corn and soybeans (aflatoxins are toxic substances produced by a certain kind of mold, and are most often found on certain types of grains). Her continuing commitment to research led to the naming of a recently discovered Iowa truffle in her honor. The fungus, named Mattirolomyces tiffanyae, was discovered in 1998 in several locations of Story County’s oak woods.

Tiffany also made significant advancement for a woman in the sciences, despite the significant challenges of being a female science professor during the early years of her career. She was the first woman president of the Iowa Academy of Science, the first woman president of the Osborn Club, and the first woman scientist in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to be awarded the title of Distinguished Professor.

Tiffany dedicated her professional life to helping students. She advised hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students and was the long-time advisor of the Botany Club, taking students on field trips all over the country with her colleague George Knaphus. Tiffany also was a supporter of the Girl Scouts, and helped to found and advise a collegiate chapter at Iowa State. Her dedication to her students is evident in the number of her students who went on to careers in the botany field.

Louis Tiffany’s specimen satchel which she used to carry mushrooms and other specimens she collected during her research and other botany trips.

The collection (1940-2010) contains Tiffany’s professional papers. Starting with her own course notes and dissertation research, the collection spans her entire professional career. The collection contains field notes, conference proceedings, academic writings, departmental committee minutes, and many notes and photographs used in her teaching career. Dr. Tiffany was known for her work as advisor to the Botany Club, and included in the collection are photographs and diaries from over thirty years of annual Botany Club field trips all over the country. The papers also include notes from Tiffany’s many professional organizations, her many summers teaching at the Lakeside Laboratory, her participation in Campus Girl Scouts, and records from the Ten Year Morel Study conducted with George Knaphus.

Pictured above is Tiffany at the 2001 Adult Nature Weekend at Iowa Lakeside Laboratory (a field station for Iowa’s state universities located on the west shore of West Okoboji Lake in northwest Iowa).  Tiffany is speaking on Ocheyedan Mound, located about 25 miles northwest of the Lakeside Laboratory.  (photograph can be found in box 20, folder 23)

For more information on the Lois Hattery Tiffany Papers, please see the online finding aid:  (If you would like to look at any of the material in the Tiffany Papers, please contact our department in advance.  The materials are stored offsite, and we will need a few days’ advance notice to bring them to our Reading Room.)

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