Sunday, October 16, 2016

October 16, 2016 - Mushrooms

Mushrooms.  Or more accurately, fungi.  This is subject one can spend a career, even a lifetime studying.  And for mushroom lovers, at least those who forage and consume wild mushrooms, it's time well spent as there are mushrooms that really will kill you, and they are not always easy to identify.  Not being someone who savors this particular delicacy, I have not invested much time learning about them, but this summer on a guided walk on the Fogg Hill conservation area, I did learn a few lessons.  The most significant point being that the visible "mushroom" is actually the fruit of a much larger organism.

A fungus consist of an extensive underground network of threadlike strands called mycelium that grows slowly and may live for hundreds of years [REF:  Encylopedia Brittanica].  Now here's the really interesting part:  almost all plants rely on fungi for their survival;  without mushrooms there would be no trees and maybe no plants [REF:  mycologue publications] (this reference has a very short and concise description of this symbiotic relationship).  The fungus grow around and into the roots of plants, bringing nutrients to them, and in return, the trees provide the fungus with sugars that it produces via photosynthesis.  This explains why a mushroom can materialize and grow so large in just a few hours - it has stored tremendous energy in its vast underground system, and sends it to the fruit when triggered.

Even though this was a very dry summer, I saw many mushrooms growing all around Lake Wicwas.  The lightest mist or quick thundershower would trigger various fungi to send out their fruit, taking advantage of what little moisture the atmosphere would give it.  Here are just a few of the various fungi I found around the lake this summer.  I don't know what kind they all are, but the variety of size, shape, color and location is testament to its being everywhere, helping every plant thrive.

Big and yellow - this one's 6 inches across

Tiny and orange - only half an inch tall

Stuck right in a wound on a living tree
And forming a roof for a visitor
On a dead birch on the ground
Indian Pipe

Nature recycling - thousands decomposing a tree
A bid one on the Red Trail in Hamlin
I mean, really big.  This could feed a family!
Just poking up - it wasn't here yesterday
They'll take up residence just about anywhere

Maybe someday I'll come to find mushrooms tasty enough to invest the time to learn what's what.  Until then, I'll just appreciate them for their beauty, and for their essential role in life on earth!

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