Henry Dalton of the @willamette_fungi_project is a ‘fungi’
From sequoia trees to the invasive nutria, the Willamette campus is host to a beautiful ecosystem, a vital part being the fungi. Henry Dalton (‘24) is examining the local fungi through photographing and researching for his Instagram page @willamette_fungi_project and in his own studies of psilocybin.
Since the beginning of his sophomore year, Dalton has owned and operated the page, but it hasn’t always been as it appears today. Dalton said, “For a long time it was really just me posting all the cool mushrooms that I found, and then I started working with Professor [David] Craig in the Environmental Science department. And we were working on a project where maybe we could take the Instagram account that already existed and turn it into something a little more academic.”
The Instagram posts on a semiregular basis, sharing photos usually taken by Dalton accompanied by the identification of the mushroom and fun facts about the species. While most of the photos are taken by Dalton himself, he encourages students to send in their own photos of fungi that they find around campus for identification. “There are a lot of different mushrooms, so every time that I [identify] one I like to learn more about it. And if it’s growing locally I figure people around here would like to know about it,” said Dalton.
Dalton is not an environmental science major in any capacity, however; he is a data science and computer science major. The only part of environmental science he really enjoys is mushrooms, he explained, which is why he is part of an independent study with the same name as the Instagram account, the Willamette Fungi Project. The study tracks and logs every mushroom Dalton has found around campus in order to create a system going forward for future Willamette students to easily identify the fungi around campus.
Dalton’s interest goes beyond the Willamette Valley’s local fungi; in fact, the world is his oyster mushroom. He explained, “Kind of a tangent from the Willamette Fungi Project is my own personal endeavor with psilocybin. Me and my friend Adam Case (‘25) are the first students that we know of to have an Oregon psilocybin permit, [which] allows us to work, handle and do research with psilocybin in approved facilities.”
Psilocybin mushrooms, more commonly known as Magic Mushrooms, contain psilocybin, a naturally occurring psychedelic which affects all the body's senses when consumed.
Dalton explained his interest: “It’s fun to think of how wild this certain substance is and how it affects our brain, because it totally restructures the neural pathways in our brain and we haven't found much that can do that. And that’s why it’s been so helpful for depression, anxiety and PTSD because it works like no other drug. And finally we’re getting past the stigma of the ‘60s through ‘80s where it was seen as just a party drug for lowlifes who want to get high, when really this is a really helpful and good thing that can help a lot of people.”
In November 2020, Oregon became the first state to legalize psilocybin-assisted therapy, and to decriminalize the personal possession of drugs. In 2022, Colorado became the only other state to legalize psychedelics and treatment facilities.
The research on the effects of psilocybin is still an ever growing topic across America, so Dalton is considering the possibility of doing some research of his own. “I actually reached out to the University of Ohio because they were one of the first colleges to get a federal license to grow Magic Mushrooms. I got in contact with the director of their program there and he said that while manufacturing mushrooms is a very difficult thing to do — there's a lot of ‘red tape’ because you're kind of inventing that process — what we could do in the future is to get the psychology department to sort of tag along with us and potentially do trials and experiments with individuals who would like to try psilocybin.”
While Dalton continues to explore the future of psilocybin, Willamette students can put on their thinking (mushroom) cap and discover more about the local ecosystem by visiting @willamette_fungi_project to look at Dalton's photography of the local fungi.