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Pa. Man Known as Mushroom Savant is Building National Reputation for Fungi Research
Pennsylvania Ag Connection - 05/30/2023

William Padilla-Brown is right at home foraging for fungi on state game lands in Middle Paxton Township, Dauphin County.

Carrying a basket, the founder of MycoSymbiotics in Harrisburg is joined by his team, who fan out in search of an ultimate fungi discovery. The squishy, damp forest floor near the trickling Stoney Creek is covered in rocks, moss, young ferns and downed trees under a canopy of hemlocks.

They pluck an unfamiliar long-stemmed brown mushroom and stumble upon reishi, a variety of mushroom used in traditional Asian medicine.

“This is important to me. Maybe this one has some crazy pharmaceutical in it and nobody knows because nobody ever saw it or cares about it,” Mr. Padilla-Brown said.

In the world of mycology, Mr. Padilla-Brown, 29, is a rockstar. The high school dropout, who describes himself as a multidisciplinary citizen scientist, has been called a “mushroom savant” and a “renaissance man obsessed with mushrooms.”

In 2015, the North Carolina native started MycoSympiotics, a permaculture research and production business that focuses on ecological research and the production of high-quality medicinal mushrooms through regenerative and sustainable farming. Mr. Padilla-Brown, who is an author, speaker and consultant, also offers courses on foraging, cultivation and extraction of mushrooms.

He has traveled around the world to Taipei and London and settled in the Harrisburg region when his father took a job at the New Cumberland Army Depot.

The self-taught mushroom expert is working with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and Penn State Extension to teach a state foraging certification program. He hosts a yearly mushroom festival. The man is a walking encyclopedia of mushroom knowledge. His interest in fungi started growing mushrooms as a kid.

“I’ve always been seeking the unknown, or some adventure or mystery. I used to think everything was already figured out when I was little. Whenever I learned about mushrooms, I learned how much we didn’t know and how much opportunity there was to discover things right around where we are,” he said.

Foraging and spending time in the forest, Mr. Padilla-Brown said, allows him to slow down.

Growing up living in cities, he said “everything was fast and blurry. There’s so much more I could see when I was able to slow my mind down.”

Among his claims to fame, Mr. Padilla-Brown is the first English speaker in the world to cultivate cordyceps, one of the most revered medicinal mushrooms used in traditional Chinese medicine. He has written two cultivating guides about the elongated, bright orange fungi and is hoping to become the only certified naturally grown cordyceps producer in the nation.

He said the guides have been sold in about 20 countries. The fungi are grown in a lab and used to make products, including a cordyceps hibiscus rosehips tincture sold on the company’s website.


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