Mycology’s Expansive Boundaries

Paul Stamets. Credit: Trav Williams Broken Banjo Photography

In the media we scan for articles and podcasts to share here, some of the last year’s attention to fungi has been aimed at making them seem less alien by celebrating their very alien-ness. Up to now, this has all been earth-bound, but maybe that has been an arbitrary boundary. Thanks to Scientific American magazine for this conversation with the man who has been stretching fungi boundaries for much longer than we have been paying attention:

Future Space Travel Might Require Mushrooms

Mycologist Paul Stamets discusses the potential extraterrestrial uses of fungi, including terraforming planets, building human habitats—and providing psilocybin therapy to astronauts

The list of mycologists whose names are known beyond their fungal field is short, and at its apex is Paul Stamets. Educated in, and a longtime resident of, the mossy, moldy, mushy Pacific Northwest region, Stamets has made numerous contributions over the past several decades— perhaps the best summation of which can be found in his 2005 book Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World. But now he is looking beyond Earth to discover new ways that mushrooms can help with the exploration of space. Continue reading

Fungi In Another Light

Starting with Milo’s 2011 and 2012 posts, our attention to the wide-ranging topics related to fungi have been in the spirit of public service announcement. Scientific sometimes overlaps with culinary interest, and that intersection has motivated more than one post. Today, having noticed that this coffee-brewer on my desk looks inspired by the Pleurotus that just appeared on my screen, the motivation is aesthetic. Thanks to Helen Rosner, whose sense of wonder has pointed me to a publication that is likely already known by our fungi-focused friends, and well suited to broaden the appeal:

The Mushroom as Muse

A zine by the photographer Phyllis Ma presents fungi in all their alien glory.

Hortiboletus rubellus.

John Cage, the avant-garde composer, was also a passionate mushroom forager. In his 1954 essay “Music Lovers’ Field Companion,” he wrote about his habit of going into the woods and “conducting performances of my silent piece”—his most famous work, “4’33”,” in which ambient sounds are the only music—while attempting to identify nearby fungi. “The more you know them, the less sure you feel about identifying them,” Cage said, almost three decades later, in a conversation with the French musician Daniel Charles.

Cordyceps militaris.

“Each one is itself. Each mushroom is what it is—its own center. It’s useless to pretend to know mushrooms. They escape your erudition.” I thought of Cage’s comments while paging through the third and most recent volume of “Mushrooms & Friends,” a photography zine by the artist Phyllis Ma. It is a mostly wordless publication, filled with Ma’s saturated, otherworldly images of mushrooms, many of which she gathers on foraging expeditions through the same upstate New York woods that enraptured Cage more than a half century ago.

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Fungi Identification Challenges

Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Thanks to Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield at the Guardian for this podcast episode about the wonders and perils of fungi-identifying:

Why is it hard to get our head around fungi? (part one) – podcast

…We often talk as if we know what species exist in the world – but we don’t. Continue reading

Edible Houseplants

Michael Crowe holding the mushrooms he grew. Photograph: Mike Crowe/Stronz Vanderploeg

Growing edible fungi at home is easier than you might have thought:

Why mushrooms are the new houseplant everybody’s growing

Easy to grow, visually beautiful and oodles of fabulous fungi for breakfast, what’s not to love?

Michael Crowe with an abundance of homegrown mushrooms. Photograph: Stronz Vanderploeg

Selling home grown mushrooms – through bags small enough to sit on your kitchen countertop, filled with organic matter like grain or coffee grounds and inoculated with spores – has been Michael Crowe’s business since 2017. He enjoys hearing from happy customers, who sometimes send him updates on their progress. “It’s just so cool because it can bring together people of all ages, from all walks of life and people all over the place can grow food and have a really good time learning about it,” he says. Continue reading

Phenomenal Fungi Discovery

Spores of the parasitic fungus Strongwellsea acerosa. Infected hosts continue to function for days. Photograph: Faculty of Science/University of Copenhagen

The image above, on its own, would be a mystery calling to be explained. Phoebe Weston  has our attention again, this time with a story from the fungi universe:

Scientists find two new species of fungi that turn flies into ‘zombies

Insect-destroying fungi ‘may represent the next frontier for drug discovery’

A fly infected with the fungus Strongwellsea tigrinae. Spores are discharged through a hole in the abdomen. Photograph: Faculty of Science/University of Copenhagen

Two new fungi species that infect flies and eject spores out of a large hole in the insect’s abdomen “like small rockets” have been discovered in Denmark.

The new species, Strongwellsea tigrinae and Strongwellsea acerosa, are host-specific and rely on two species of Danish fly – Coenosia tigrina and Coenosia testacea, according to researchers at the University of Copenhagen. Continue reading

More On The Social Networking Of Trees

On a topic we have posted about at least a few times before, here is the latest science on the ways in which trees communicate among themselves, and with others, accompanied by some phenomenally beautiful supporting photographs (especially the fungi):

The Social Life of Forests

Trees appear to communicate and cooperate through subterranean networks of fungi. What are they sharing with one another?

By Ferris Jabr
Photographs by Brendan George Ko

As a child, Suzanne Simard often roamed Canada’s old-growth forests with her siblings, building forts from fallen branches, foraging mushrooms and huckleberries and occasionally eating handfuls of dirt (she liked the taste). Her grandfather and uncles, meanwhile, worked nearby as horse loggers, using low-impact methods to selectively harvest cedar, Douglas fir and white pine. They took so few trees that Simard never noticed much of a difference. The forest seemed ageless and infinite, pillared with conifers, jeweled with raindrops and brimming with ferns and fairy bells. She experienced it as “nature in the raw” — a mythic realm, perfect as it was. When she began attending the University of British Columbia, she was elated to discover forestry: an entire field of science devoted to her beloved domain. It seemed like the natural choice.

Mushrooms and conks are the fruiting bodies of fungi. Their underground filaments form networks among the root systems.

By the time she was in grad school at Oregon State University, however, Simard understood that commercial clearcutting had largely superseded the sustainable logging practices of the past. Loggers were replacing diverse forests with homogeneous plantations, evenly spaced in upturned soil stripped of most underbrush. Without any competitors, the thinking went, the newly planted trees would thrive. Instead, they were frequently more vulnerable to disease and climatic stress than trees in old-growth forests. In particular, Simard noticed that up to 10 percent of newly planted Douglas fir were likely to get sick and die whenever nearby aspen, paper birch and cottonwood were removed. The reasons were unclear. The planted saplings had plenty of space, and they received more light and water than trees in old, dense forests. So why were they so frail? Continue reading

Milo, Mushroom Clubs & Mylo

Mylo, a material made from mycelium, in natural and black. Bolt Threads

Milo’s teen years convinced me of the wonders of fungi. The Mushroom Club of Georgia was in the right place at the right time for him to convert intense curiosity into something more powerful. On another day, more on what he has done with that in the decade since. For now a bit of thanks. We have had the privilege of hosting members of that Club in our home in Costa Rica, and intend to do so again now that travel restrictions have eased. This post is an overdue shout out to that Club and others like it. More kids in those clubs would be a good thing. Meanwhile, nice to see these folks making news again. It helps persuade me that fashion is of greater value than I have given it credit for up to now:

Fungus May Be Fall’s Hottest Fashion Trend

A surprising group of fashion rivals including Stella McCartney and Lululemon are joining forces to back Mylo, a new mushroom leather.

Bolt Threads mycelium mats in the grow facility. Bolt Threads

It may be fashion week in Paris, with showgoers in face coverings parsing runway looks from the latest designer ready-to-wear collections, but several thousand miles away from the French capital, out of the dank, dark belly of an industrial hangar, a potentially more momentous industry trend is … growing.

Mushroom leather might not sound stylish. But Bolt Threads, a start-up that specializes in developing next-generation fibers inspired by nature, is one of a growing number of companies convinced that the material is a viable replacement — in both form and function — for animal-sourced and synthetic skins. Continue reading

Some Of Nature’s Miniature Pharmaceutical Factories Are Also Culinary Powerhouses

Photograph by Mari Maeda and Yuji Oboshi. Styled by Suzy Kim

I have not done a count, but I would guess the New York Times has been the source of as many stories we link to as any other publication. Mostly that would be due to the excellence, and relevance to our goals, of the Science section. The New York Times Style Magazine is not normally a source for us. I cannot find a single link to that publication on this platform in 9+ years and among 4,000+ posts. We feature plenty of shiny pretty things but only those that offer insight relevant to this platform. On occasion the trendy and/or the fashionable intersect well with the stories we favor, and we have no problem pointing those out.

A selection of herbal and mushroom powders from Apothékary. Sarah Gurrity

So it goes with fungi. There are many fungi-focused posts on this platform, few of which would be seen as glamorizing. Surely we are trying to validate the topic by shining an attractive light on it. But we favor knowledge over visual stimulation. Aesthetics are not lost on us, nor is the intent to get more people interested in a topic we care about, so:

Are Mushrooms the Future of Wellness?

Long thought to have medicinal benefits, fungi including reishi, lion’s mane and chaga are gaining popularity in the wellness world.

Even before the onset of the pandemic, which has increased the demand for all manner of so-called organic immunity elixirs, wellness-minded Americans were warming to mushrooms. To be clear, mushrooms don’t cure Covid-19, but they are thought to provide a host of other benefits, from serving as an aphrodisiac to bolstering one’s defenses to toxins…

Not one, but two articles in the same issue, both with fabulous photography. The first, by Arden Fanning Andrews, deals with the health benefits of fungi; the second, by Ligaya Mishan, focuses on the culinary:

A duo of royal trumpet mushrooms alongside ladybugs, lichen and wild ferns.Credit…Mari Maeda and Yuji Oboshi

Mushrooms, the Last Survivors

Neither plant nor animal, mushrooms have confounded humans since ancient times. Now, they’re a reminder of our tenuous place in an uncertain world.

The mushrooms sit on high, behind glass, above bottles of Armagnac and mezcal in a bar at the Standard hotel in Manhattan’s East Village. They are barely recognizable at first, just eerie silhouettes resembling coral growths in an aquarium, blooming in laboratory-teal light: tightly branched clusters of oyster mushrooms in hot pink, yolk yellow and bruise blue, alongside lion’s mane mushrooms, shaggy white globes with spines like trailing hair…

Preparing For An Entangled Future

The Science section of the Guardian’s website has an article profiling an author and his new book (click above to find the book on the author’s website) that relate to a topic we care about as much as any we post about on this platform.

Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes) being home cultivated. Photograph: Gerry Bishop/Alamy

When Amie and Milo and I moved to Kerala, India in 2010 it was ostensibly for the sake of our client. But it was also for Milo. He was 16 years-old with a strong interest in mycology, and was motivated to translate his knowledge into practice. Within the first year he set up a small farming operation for culinary mushrooms.

Underground network: a wood-rotting fungal mycelium exploring and consuming a log. Photograph: Alison Pouliot

He was adept at explaining the importance of complex networks like those in the image to the left, and made me a believer: the future is fungal, for culinary, medicinal, and bio-remediation purposes. When restoration of this coffee farm started, I built a berm with logs at the core, expecting a mycelium network to develop, creating a healthy border for the shade trees planted.

These days Milo has his own forest tract to continue these pursuits and I keep a lookout for related stories of interest. Merlin Sheldrake has my full attention today:

The future is fungal: why the ‘megascience’ of mycology is on the rise

The study of fungi has long been overshadowed by more glamorous scientific quests. But biologist Merlin Sheldrake is on a mission to change that

Merlin Sheldrake is convinced fungi will play a crucial role in our growing understanding of the environment. Photograph: Cosmo Sheldrake

As a boy, Merlin Sheldrake really loved the autumn. In the garden of his parents’ house – he grew up a few moments from Hampstead Heath, which is where he and I are walking right now, on an overcast summer morning – the leaves would fall from a big chestnut tree, forming gentle drifts into which he liked nothing more than to hurl himself. Wriggling around until he was fully submerged, Sheldrake would lie there, quite content, “buried in the rustle, lost in curious smells”. As he writes in his wondrous new book, Entangled Life, these autumnal piles were both places to hide and worlds to explore. Continue reading

Non-Gastronomic Mushroom Utility

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Thanks, as always, for the interesting news on creative use for mushrooms beyond the gastronomic, from the Guardian:

Mushrooms and orange peel: could biotech clean up the building industry?

A biotech startup is researching building materials that could revolutionise construction. Not only are they biodegradable – some also absorb toxins

Cocoa husks, dried orange peel, ground blue pea flowers: the ingredients read like a tasting menu. They are, in fact, waste products that are used to make Orb – a sustainable building material that is carbon neutral. It’s versatile enough to be used for furniture or as a substitute for a wood-based sheet material. Continue reading

Fungi, Bees & Future

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Lilli Carré

Fungi first appeared in our pages thanks to Milo. And the name of the essayist below was mentioned a couple times earlier as well. He deserves more attention, especially if his attention is focused on bees:

Will Mushrooms Be Magic for Threatened Bees?

We might be able to save honeybees from viruses transmitted by invasive parasites without chemical treatment.

By Paul Stamets

Mr. Stamets is a mycologist.

Sometime in the 1980s, microscopic mites that had been afflicting honeybees outside the United States found their way to Florida and Wisconsin and began wreaking havoc across the country. These parasites have invaded and decimated wild and domestic bee colonies. Along with other dangers facing bees, like pesticides and the loss of forage lands, the viruses these mites carry threaten the bees we rely on to pollinate many of the fruits, nuts and vegetables we eat. Continue reading

Biobrick, Another Wonder Enabled By Mycelium

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The Hulett hotel, Cleveland, which Redhouse are currently building using the biocycling process.
Illustration: Redhouse Studio

Thanks to Redhouse Studio and the Guardian’s Laura Dorwart for this story:

Magic mushrooms: how fungus could help rebuild derelict Cleveland

Could a process that uses mycelium to help recycle old buildings into new ones solve the problem of the city’s many abandoned homes?

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A biobrick created using broken down construction waste combined with biobinders made of fungi, plant material and microbes. Photograph: Redhouse Studio

Over 7,000 abandoned or condemned homes litter the urban landscape of Cleveland, Ohio, where a stunning population loss of about 100,000 residents in 25 years and widespread foreclosures have sparked a housing crisis marked by growing racial and economic disparities. Posing concerns in terms of economic stability, public health and safety, the abandoned homes that line many of the city’s streets are at once symbols of its resilience and ongoing obstacles to growth and prosperity.

Cleveland native Christopher Maurer, founder and principal architect at local humanitarian design firm Redhouse Studio and adjunct professor at Kent State University, has plenty of ideas about how to address the city’s complex challenges.

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Construction debris is ground to a pulp and combined with biobinders, then pressed and treated to make bricks and other materials. Illustration: Redhouse Studio

Continue reading

Trees For Life In Scotland

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Trees for Life have planted 1.5m native trees in Glenmoriston and nearby Glen Affric since being founded 30 years ago. Photograph: Desmond Dugan/RSPB/PA

Thanks to Damian Carrington, the Guardian’s Environment editor, for this:

‘Magical’ mushroom mix to boost regrowth of lost Scottish forests

Return of Great Caledonian forest speeded up with fungi spores to help saplings flourish

The return of the Great Caledonian forest that once covered much of Scotland’s highlands is being boosted with a special mix of mushroom spores that should help saplings survive better on the hills.

Fungi living on the roots of trees play a vital role in the ecology, helping to break down nutrients in the soil. But trees were lost in much of the Highlands many years ago so the fungi vanished too.

The new project, run by Trees for Life, is adding the spores when young trees are planted. Continue reading

Enlisting Enzymes for Ecoefficiency

Models of stain-fighting enzymes, displayed on clothes in a washing machine. Credit Carsten Snejbjerg for The New York Times

We’ve been highlighting mycological innovation since the early days of this site, and our enthusiasm has yet to wane. The range of fungi-power will never cease to amaze.

Fighting Climate Change,
One Laundry Load at a Time

A Danish biotechnology company is trying to fight climate change — one laundry load at a time. Its secret weapon: mushrooms like those in a dormant forest outside Copenhagen.

In the quest for a more environmentally friendly detergent, two scientists at the company, Novozymes, regularly trudge through the mud, hunting for oyster mushrooms that protrude from a fallen beech or bracken fungi that feast on tough plant fibers. They are studying the enzymes in mushrooms that speed up chemical reactions or natural processes like decay.

“There is a lot going on here, if you know what to look for,” said Mikako Sasa, one of the Novozymes scientists.

Their work is helping the company develop enzymes for laundry and dishwasher detergents that would require less water, or that would work just as effectively at lower temperatures. The energy savings could be significant. Washing machines, for instance, account for over 6 percent of household electricity use in the European Union.

Enlisting enzymes to battle dirt is not a new strategy. Over thousands of years, mushrooms and their fungi cousins have evolved into masters at nourishing themselves on dying trees, fallen branches and other materials. They break down these difficult materials by secreting enzymes into their hosts. Even before anyone knew what enzymes were, they were used in brewing and cheese making, among other activities. Continue reading

Foraging Forays

Taking a break from packing for my upcoming return to Belize, I joined a group of old friends from the Georgia Mushroom Club in a foray near the Georgia/South Carolina border. Fresh air, a walk in the woods, good company, and foraging for mushrooms – what better way to spend a morning?

The weather has been warm and wet, great conditions for mushrooms and we were happy to find patches of chanterelles. As we searched we talked about Chan Chich Lodge and Belize, and that we’re in the midst of brainstorming collaborations with the staff and local community who carry the ancestral knowledge of the old Mayan and Belizean foodways, and chefs who focus on foraging in the creation of their menus. We’ve recently discovered a variety of foods that are plentifully available from the Chan Chich forests, and are excited to incorporate them into our culinary story.  Continue reading

Consumables Containing Consumables

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The design company Ecovative makes a variety of packaging materials using mycelium fungus. Credit Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times

Thanks again to Stephanie Strom for a story about ecology that surprises:

Packaging Food With Food to Reduce Waste

For the environmentally conscious eater, they are among the most inconvenient truths: Too much food goes to waste. Too much packaging comes with the food. And too much of the packaging is made to last for ages.

Now there may be a single answer to all three problems: using excess food to make the packaging. Continue reading

Citizen Science, Mushroom Edition

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Photo: Johan Hansson/Creative Commons Attribution

We have a mycological leaning on this platform, which started due to Milo’s interest, which was infectious.  So, our news filters pick up stories like this; normally I avoid sharing the stories involving hallucinogens, though I read the serious ones myself. I do not expect stories like this one below from New York Magazine, so this was a pleasant surprise:

Meet the Citizen Scientists Who Think Mushrooms Have Superpowers

By

Last month, around 2,500 people with some connection to hallucinogenic drugs gathered at the Oakland Marriott City Center in Oakland, California for what might best be described as the psychedelics state of the union. Psychedelic Science 2017, as it was more formally known, drew professionals of all stripes: chemists who make the hallucinogens, neuroscientists who study their effects on the brain, therapists who discuss their after-effects on patients, shamans and healers who administer the drugs, and anthropologists like Joanna Steinhardt, who are trying to make sense of the meaning of psychedelic culture. Continue reading

Bioluminescence, Fungi, Science

 

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A bioluminescent jack-o’-lantern mushroom found in Pisgah National Forest, near Asheville, N.C. Credit Mike Belleme for The New York Times

Three of our favorite topics in one, thanks to Joanna Klein, the New York Times, and Science (the section of the paper and the thing itself):

PISGAH NATIONAL FOREST, N.C. — Here’s what I was told: Get away from the city, go during a new moon and keep my flashlight off. When the sky faded black enough to spot stars twinkling, I’d be able to see mushrooms glowing. Continue reading

Bioluminescence Better Understood

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Thanks to Cool Green Science for shedding more light on a topic we have commented on from time to time since starting this platform:

Living Light

What makes some living things glow?

by JENNY ROGERS

For two weeks each year at the beginning of summer, fireflies light up a portion of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They glow in unison or in waves as males communicate with females in an elaborate mating dance that no one fully understands. There are at least 19 firefly species in the park, but Photinus carolinus is one of the only fireflies in America known to light in unison. Tourists arrive by the thousands to watch. Continue reading

Foraging Fellowship In New York City

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Reishi mushrooms (left) and Trametes versicolor collected in a folded map. ZACK DEZON

Thanks to Wired author Charley Locke for his story MEET THE OBSESSIVE MUSHROOM HUNTERS OF NEW YORK CITY:

ON A PARTICULARLY gorgeous Sunday in October, 30 explorers with the New York Mycological Society met at a cemetery in Brooklyn to hunt for mushrooms.

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Reishi mushrooms on a stump. ZACK DEZON

They rummaged through leaves, carefully inspected the headstones, and gingerly reached into tree trunks, hoping to find something amazing. A turkey tail, perhaps, or hen-of-the-wood. “It was like a scavenger hunt,” says Zack DeZon, a photographer who joined them on the search. “It struck me as the analog equivalent of Pokemon Go.”

DeZon is not particularly enamored with fungus, but a mushroom-obsessed friend’s Instagram feed piqued his interest. The fellow pointed him toward the Mycological Society which has since 1962 catered to those with an interest in mycology and mycophagy. The society, created by the composer John Cage, has 430 members and meets throughout the year to find mushrooms, eat mushrooms, and discuss mushrooms.

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