VALE Margaret Brims (1932-2018)

Slime Mould Aficionado and Club Member

Margaret Brims became known to the Fungi Group of the club in 2004 when she provided much needed expertise on a group of organisms that we came across during our fungi forays. They weren’t exactly fungi, but while looking for new things we found them at the same time in the same places so we included them as “honorary fungi”. Margaret provided much encouragement and was such a help with identifying our finds, she became an essential help to the Perth Urban Bushland Fungi (PUBF) Project.

I first met Margaret Brims when I was working as the Community Education Officer for the PUBF at the WA Herbarium in 2004. Margaret was an elderly, tiny, very polite and—I found out later—very kind lady. She and her husband Alex were already members of the Club, so we had this in common.

A slime mould was encountered on our very first public PUBF fungi foray and Neale Bougher, the PUBF Mycologist, directed me to approach Margaret to see if she was prepared to assist us with identification.

So I told her that I thought we’d seen a Strawberry Slime Mould on the recent weekend workshop at Star Swamp. ‘Where is it?’ she asked me. ‘Where we saw it, still in the swamp,’ I replied, feeling rather puzzled.

‘Well, I don’t have hundreds of people out there collecting and bringing things back for me,’ she commented crossly. I was very surprised. At this stage, no one had ever wanted me to bring them samples! So I said: ‘Do you want me to bring you things that we think might be Slime Moulds?’ ‘Oh yes please,’ she replied enthusiastically. And so started our marvellous association! Margaret and her husband Alex often came on our fungi forays after that.

At this stage I really didn’t know anything about slime moulds. ‘How will I recognise them?’ I asked Margaret ‘Little coloured dots on wood’ she replied. So off I went.

PUBF participants collected and brought back at least one and sometimes a few slime mould suspects after every weekend of PUBF workshops that winter in 2004, which I would deliver to her. One time I brought her some little brown dots. It was a few days before I saw her again.

‘Er, …ahem, …Roz,’ she said apologetically. I wondered what on earth I’d done! ‘I have made this mistake myself before,’ she kindly said. I was getting really puzzled at this stage. She continued, ’One day, I was looking down my dissecting mic and a caterpillar walked past under the mic. Lo and behold,’ (these were her exact words, I have never forgotten) ‘It deposited a little brown ball just like the ones you brought me!’ I was in fits: I’d brought her caterpillar poo! She was being so careful not to hurt my feelings or discourage me, but I was completely amazed that any of us in PUBF could even spot, let alone collect, caterpillar poo. We laughed about this together for a long time after that.

After our first PUBF fungi season I went on a Coates Wildlife tour to the Galapagos in Oct 2004. A side trip was a few days in the Amazon; what a fungi and slime mould paradise it was! I spotted what I thought was a slime mould on a log and took a photo for Margaret. It was puzzling, as there was a pink ball and some white bits too. Margaret was delighted, as there were two totally different slime moulds in the picture. I had so much to learn and Margaret was so kind and considerate, teaching me and forgiving my mistakes.

But Margaret did much more than helping PUBF with identifying the slime moulds found on our forays. She taught herself how to collect, culture and identify these “miniature works of art”, as world Slime Mould expert Professor Steve Stephenson described them in a public lecture he gave at Curtin University when in WA collecting with Margaret and Alex.

As there was no expertise locally, Margaret contacted international experts such as Steve Stephenson (USA) and David Mitchell (UK) to ask their opinion on her collections. Margaret and Alex made a number of collecting trips with Steve and his wife Barbara to assist with his ambitious project of preparing a world inventory of slime moulds. This little “slime mould working group” made extensive collecting trips in WA and other states. In Tasmania, Alex spotted a large fruiting of a myxomycete on a log. Steve didn’t immediately recognize the species, which ultimately turned out to be new to science and which he named Trichia brimsiorum in honour of Margaret and Alex.

Margaret co-authored many scientific papers on Australian slime moulds, and her collections are preserved at the WA Herbarium. Her contributions to the WA Herbarium were acknowledged by being recognised as a Volunteer of the year in 2010.

Roz Hart
(with contributions from Steve Stephenson and Elaine Davison)