One of our neighbors has this SPECTACULAR patch of Coprinoid fungus. I think it’s Coprinopsis variegata, but I’m not expert enough to be certain. It’s a massive colony that is digesting a long-dead felled tree; you can see the outline of part of the stump.
And Dan Brewer’s post about magnolias and how they evolved such robust flowers to be pollinated by beetles BECAUSE BEES HADN’T EVOLVED YET, reminded me –
White-rot fungi, which is basically all of the saprophytic fungus types – some of which make weird tiny fruiting bodies that are hard to even recognize AS fruiting bodies, and create webs of filmy white stuff (mycelium) in your compost heap, or dry-rot the boards in your garage… but also comprise ALL of the stem-and-cap classic mushrooms we know – evolved after hundreds of millions of years of life had already passed. The ENTIRE REASON we have coal, oil, and gas, is that the Carboniferous period, 359.2 MYA to about 299 MYA had NO MUSHROOMS. Nothing fungal rotted those plants; they piled up where they fell. And that’s coal. I heard a scientist on NPR talking about how coal mining companies won’t let them investigate for fossils in most coal mines, because you can often see how it’s just PILED UP DEAD PLANTS with animals stuck in – and it makes it way too clear how limited and special those deposits are. When a shallow inland sea covered up an area and tons of gravity squeezed the juicy bits out of all the dead material, that’s oil. Volatile fractions separate from the squeezed hydrocarbon juices, and float to the top, and that’s natural gas. And it can NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN, because now when a tree falls, there are hundreds of kinds of airborne spores that fall on it and break it down into tiny bits of organic matter which are then taken up by insects, plants, mites, other fungi, etc. I got the deets on this from “Entangled Life” by Merlin Sheldrake.
And every time I see someone being stressed out or concerned about having “fungus in their soil” – it happens a lot on gardening forums when people are new and don’t know – it makes me so sad, and I have to tell them this kind of stuff. Because fungus makes EVERYTHING happen in the soil, and without their fungal partners, plants are crippled and can’t thrive. Plants and fungus literally hold hands on a cellular level, and in many cases they require one another to survive.
So be careful with mushrooms, yeah – don’t eat what you aren’t really sure about – but also look and realize how awesome they are. And another thing: there is not a mushroom with a poison you can be harmed by from touching the mushroom. You can pick up any mushroom, put it down, wash your hands, and you’re fine. You can actually TAKE A BITE, chew, and spit – and you won’t have any damage. You have to ingest and digest the toxins to be harmed. Many of the really dangerous ones, in the hardcore books, still have TASTING NOTES to help identify them. It’s crazy to see something with a skull and crossbones, and things like “Slightly peppery, with a fruity undertone similar to apricot.” And I learned this from Alan Rockefeller, who is a god among mushroom men, and I’ve been privileged to walk in the woods with him.