An Ivy League school is giving China back its treasured mushrooms.
Shu Chun Teng traveled halfway around the world on a scholarship to study mycology at Cornell University in 1923. He left five years later with a knowledge of fungi unequaled in China, then spent the next decade traveling on horseback gathering up molds, lichens, yeasts, rusts and morels in the forests, fields and marshes of his homeland.
During the Japanese invasion in 1937, Teng arranged for his best specimens to be removed from a national botany institute he directed in Nanking to save them from destruction. During World War II, they were smuggled by ox cart to Indochina and then by sea to the United States, and 2,278 of the specimen packets ended up at Teng's alma mater.
At Cornell's initiative, the university is dividing up and sharing its Fungi of China Collection with the Academy of Sciences in Beijing to help advance the exploration of fungal species. Only an estimated 6 percent of those believed to exist in the world have been recorded.