That Nature Show: The Fungus Among Us

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This column, That Nature Show, is about the nature right under your nose: in our backyards, playgrounds and parks! Stop and look around, you’ll be amazed at what surrounds you. 

Husb., a biology teacher, likes t-shirts with Sheldon-y, Big Bang Theory inside-joke science slogans on them and I like to get them for him. He has one with the molecular formula for caffeine on it. (Yay! Caffeine! “The most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world.”) Another, one of my personal favorites says, “Stand back, I’m going to try Science. ” Another asserts, “I’m A Fungi.”

Teehee! Oh, you wee silly science folk, y’all are so adorable with your weak humor I want to be one of you.

Which brings me to the massive proliferation of mushrooms in my front yard. There are at least four different species by my amateur count including a robust-looking golden-yellow one with spots that seriously looks perfect for a gnome. What the heck, Nature?  Is this a sign you want me to get into mycology? It sure seems that way. So, yes, I did go to the library and take out “A Field Guide to Mushrooms: North America.” Because I am a BIG NERD. I do what the mushrooms tell me. (By the way, here’s a list of Maryland’s psychoactive ones.)

I learned the collective noun for a group of mushrooms is  a “troupe” or a “sproutness.” I also learned from this TED talk that  mushrooms might save the world.  Strange but true, they are the largest organisms on Earth.  I looked appreciatively at the ones in my yard which I identified as  sp. amanita

Fungi are “soil magicians.” The dense web of their thread-like underground root-like hairs called hyphae that are sometimes miles long work in synergy with plants. The food web goes like this: decaying matter provides nutrition for fungi, the fungi feed the plants, the plants feed the animals that feed us. We’re more degrees removed from Kevin Bacon.

“We [humans] are most closely related to fungi than we are to any other kingdom,” says Paul Stamets, founder of Fungi Perfecti. (From whose catalog you can order a log inoculated with portobellos to grow at home! Think of the holidays!) There’s even a push in the scientific community for the formation of a Super Kingdom, the Opisthokonts, which joins kingdoms Animalia and Fungi together because of our tight and long-standing relationship with the ‘shrooms.

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