But this column isn’t about Ted Trueblood. His fame overshadowed the remarkable accomplishments of Ellen Trueblood, Ted’s wife.
Ellen, also born in Boise, was a writer in her own right. She reported for the Boise Capital New and the Nampa Free Press. Ellen was an accomplished hunter, angler, and photographer when she met Ted Trueblood, so the match seemed a natural. Following their 1939 marriage, the Truebloods honeymooned all summer long in the Idaho wilderness. That summer cemented her already strong love for the study of nature.
In the 1950s, Ellen was an amateur collector of plants. She began to focus on something that is often overshadowed by Idaho’s beautiful wildflowers. Ellen grew passionate about fungi. Although she took a few classes, she was mostly self-taught in mycology, the scientific study of fungi. As she became more proficient, she found mentors in the field to take her to the next level. After a few years of collecting, identifying, and sharing her knowledge she became the leading expert on fungi in southwestern Idaho, eastern Oregon, and northern Nevada, concentrating mostly in the Owyhees.
Fungi in the Owyhees are mostly found beneath sagebrush, though Ellen discovered them in desert ponds and creeks as well. Some are larger than a softball; some smaller than the head of a pin. If you think of mushrooms as brown, you’ve missed the colors that range from robin-egg blue through purple to vivid yellows and reds. Ellen Trueblood is credited with discovering more than 20 species of fungi.
Ellen was often seen with a slide carousel under her arm, off again to speak to a garden club about mushrooms. She had more than 2,700 slides. In 1975, when Boise State University added mycology to its curriculum, Ellen was the obvious choice to teach it.
In a 1962 article in the Idaho Free Press, Ellen Trueblood confessed a fear that many mushroom hunters have. “I spent a restless night the first time I served oyster mushrooms to my family—even though I was sure of my identification and was reassured by the book I had with me. There was that fear of toadstools that I couldn’t forget. I had to check in the night to see if my family was alive.”
After that sleepless night she educated herself and her family on how to identify a poisonous mushrooms. Her two sons, 5 and 7 at the time could quickly spot the tell-tale signs.
Some 6,500 of Ellen’s collections are housed at the University of Michigan Herbarium in Ann Arbor, College of Idaho in Caldwell, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg. Ellen Trueblood passed away in 1994.
Note: I received a letter about Ellen from the Southern Idaho Mycological Association after this post ran the first in December of 2021. I’ve included much of it here because it adds much to Ellen’s story.
Ellen Trueblood was instrumental in the formation of the Southern Idaho Mycological Association, January, 1976.
Under Ellen's guidance SIMA (Southern Idaho Mycological Association) was established as an organization of amateur mycologists dedicated to studying the ecology of fungi and its interaction with plants and animals. Mycology, like Ornithology, is one of the few sciences left with an active role for amateurs.
The North American Mycological Association contacted Ellen Trueblood and Dr Orson K Miller Jr about establishing a mycological society affiliated with NAMA to host a national foray in the McCall area for the fall of 1976. The McCall area is a transition zone between the Blue Mountain and Rocky Mountain Biomes, and is rich in diversity of fungal species. With Ellen's guidance SIMA was formed and hosted a national mycological foray in 1976. SIMA also hosted a second national foray in September 2008.
Ellen shared her extensive knowledge of the fungi of Owyhee county freely with SIMA members, leading many short weekend forays into the Owyhee mountains.
SIMA's data base of over 2000 individual species reflects Ellen's collections and other fungi collected by SIMA in Owyhee, Ada, Boise, Elmore, Canyon, Gem, Payette, Washington, Adams, Valley, Idaho Counties of Idaho plus Malheur and Baker Counties of Oregon.
SIMA still exists today, hosting spring and fall forays in the McCall area yearly, adding to the work Ellen started years ago. SIMA has a membership of 50-plus dedicated amateur scientists studying mycology.
Genille Steiner, Robert Chehey, past presidents of SIMA.