Student profile: Christian Schwarz--a fascination with fungi

Student Christian Schwarz, leader of the Mushroom Enthusiast club, shows off some of his beloved earthy delicacies. (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

When visiting UC Santa Cruz, you may spot Christian Schwarz. It's hard not to notice him--he's often seen kneeling in the dirt around Science Hill or upper campus.

Schwarz is a senior ecology and evolution major with a passion for all things that fly, swim, run, or grow. But his soft spot is undoubtedly for the charming, dirt-dwelling kingdom that decomposes organic matter and just generally keeps the circle of life running smoothly: Fungi.

His love of mushrooms stems from their intriguing and only partially understood nature.

"If you come across something in the woods and you don't know what it is, it's probably a fungus," says Schwarz. "You don't have to try hard to find mushrooms that are as-yet undiscovered to science."

Schwarz has made the most of the resources the campus has to offer, combining academics with his pastime. He works off and on to help run the Natural History Museum on campus, assists ecology and evolutionary biology professor Greg Gilbert with the macrofungal ecology program, started the Mushroom Enthusiast club, and leads many mushroom walks, just to name a few.

The walks and the club help to educate curious staff and students alike about the fungal wonders Santa Cruz has to offer.

Even Schwarz's choice of college was influenced by his mycological interest. He says he chose UCSC "for the mushrooms. We're the only campus where we're in the woods."

On top of that, Santa Cruz is a very special location, ecologically speaking. "Santa Cruz seems to be an intersection between Southern California and Northern California fungal flora," says Schwarz. "We don't know why, but it's got mushrooms that don't occur anywhere else."

Schwarz credits the outstanding ecology and evolution faculty for nurturing his fascination.

His plans after graduation?

"To continue to survive in a way that allows me to spend my free time looking at mushrooms and other pretty things."

Investigating the curiosities of the natural world at every opportunity, Schwarz is a scientist through and through.

Student Aliyah Kovner is headed to Costa Rica to study abroad for the spring quarter.