Martha Sherwood, 1948–2020, Expert in Ostropalean and Fossil Fungi
Dr. Martha Allen Sherwood passed away in Eugene, Oregon, on 19 October 2020 after suffering a stroke. Although she moved on from studying fungi in the mid 1990s, her contributions in microascomycete systematics and fossil fungi still serve as important references. Her holiday letters and cartoons revealed her quirky personality, artistic talent, and broad interests that kept her busy throughout her life.
Martha was inspired to study fungi by her undergraduate professor George Carroll, recent MSA Distinguished Mycologist, while at the University of Oregon where they were working on endophytic fungi on old growth Douglas fir (Sherwood & Carroll 1974). After graduation she moved to Cornell University where she completed a PhD with Richard Korf. Her PhD thesis on the ostropalean fungi resulted in a book length publication (Sherwood 1977), which remains the most comprehensive account of this group. As a postdoc, she worked at the Farlow Herbarium, Harvard University, studying and publishing on the ostropalean fungi and wrote a comprehensive monograph of the genus Coccomyces along with papers on related fungi. She contributed to the extensive collections at the Farlow Herbarium through her field work and by undertaking identification of the extensive backlog of unidentified specimens. She also issued a set of expertly identified fungi under the title, Phacidiales Exsiccati. While at Harvard, she also worked with local amateur lichenologists to collect lichens in the Boston area with a goal of comparing current distributions and diversity with historical records. Martha was the editor of the MSA newsletter from January 1979 to August 1980. From Harvard she moved to the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom, where she contributed to the completion of the book, The British Ascomycotina. An Annotated Checklist (Cannon et al. 1985).
Following her return to her native Oregon, she married Larry Pike, lichenologist, and published for a while as Martha Sherwood-Pike. There she collaborated with paleobotanist Jane Gray. This research resulted in some of the most important publications on fossil fungi (Sherwood-Pike 1988, 1991; Sherwood-Pike & Gray 1985). Knowledge of fossil fungi has become increasingly important as sequence data are used as molecular clocks to date the evolutionary branches of major groups of fungi.
Her field activities were centered near her home in Oregon, around Massachusetts and New York, and, while still a student in the early 1970s, on an expedition to Guadeloupe in the French West Indies where she and Steve Carpenter joined Donald Pfister in a collecting expedition. She was responsible for the identification of many of the specimens from that trip. Although her work on Ostropales and Coccomyces are major contributions, her broad knowledge of ascomycetes in general gave her a command of these fungi and their systematics. Before molecular phylogenetics were applied, her work exemplified the power of knowing fungi in the field, of detailed morphological work, and of taking time to think about the role of fungi in the environment.
The genus Marthamyces is named for her and became the basis for a family and an order. This unusual fungus is a focus today of molecular work to determine its proper placement. She is commemorated as well with the names Ctenoporites sherwoodiae, Phacidium sherwoodiae, and
In addition to her contributions to the study of fungi, Martha was a superb artist creating outstanding fabric artwork through knitting, sewing, and quilting. Her handpainted Ukrainian Easter eggs shown here serve as treasured
ornaments that may someday be available in the MSA auction!
Amy Rossman & Donald Pfister
Cannon, P.F., Hawksworth, D.L., and Sherwood-Pike, M.A. 1985. The British Ascomycotina. An Annotated Checklist. Commonwealth Mycological Institute, Kew, Surrey, England, 302 pages.
Sherwood, M.A. 1977. The Ostropalean Fungi (1). Mycotaxon 5: 1–277.
Sherwood, M.A. 1979. Phacidiales Exsiccati. Decades I–III. Mycotaxon 10: 241–245.
Sherwood, M.A. 1980. Taxonomic studies in the Phacidiales: The genus Coccomyces (Rhytismataceae). Occas. Pap. Farlow Herb. Cryptog. Bot. 15: 1–120.
Sherwood-Pike, M. 1991. Fossils as keys to evolution in fungi. BioSystems 25: 121–129.
Sherwood, M., and Carroll, G. 1974. Fungal succession on needles and young twigs of old-growth Douglas fir. Mycologia 66: 499–506.
Sherwood-Pike, M.A. 1987. The Ostropalean fungi III: The Odontotremataceae. Mycotaxon 28: 137–177.
Sherwood-Pike, M. A. 1988. Freshwater fungi: fossil record and paleoecological potential. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 62: 271–285.
Sherwood-Pike, M. A., & Gray, J. 1985. Silurian fungal remains: probable records of the class Ascomycetes. Lethaia 18: 1–20.