Contributing writer Seán Dunne discusses the wonders of fungi and why mushrooms are the future.
I once had a friend who told me that mushrooms were the future. It seemed like such an unlikely thing to say that I started saying it myself. Through the open corridors of life I screamed and screamed and screamed again:
“MUSHROOMS ARE THE FUTURE… MUshrOOms Are THE FUtureEEE”.
Naturally, people were confused. Not only were they confused, they were openly afraid. The nature of my message shook so deep and clear in the hearts of the many that they veered like ants from my path. Those closest, touched by the forces of evil, even resorted to ridicule. But it did not matter. If they could not see, their ears would hear.
Mushrooms ARE the future.
To state something like this is poetry, but to explain it is science. I will explain said statement in the following expletives: the mushroom as we understand it (typically of the order of Agaricales) is not the mushroom. The mushroom is merely the fruiting body of a much deeper and larger body, the mycelium. This vast branching series of connections scurries itself throughout the forest, continuing on unnoticed from above, like a hard floor beneath carpet. It is an ancient floor.
Indeed, the largest and oldest living organism on earth is that of a particular honey mushroom (Armillaria ostoyae) living in the Malheur National Forest. It is believed to be some 8,650 years old, spanning a distance of over six square kilometers. For context, by the time human civilisation finally began spinning its wheels in Mesopotamia, this creature had already lived for 2,000 years.
In fact, life on land is itself largely the product of mushrooms pummelling away at rocks for millions of years, producing the very thing we call the soil. This would allow plants to travel vast distances in land, instead of lining themselves in small groups around water, producing the world as we know it.
My aforementioned friend told me once about these ancient mushrooms known as Protaxites that existed some sixty million years ago:
“So imagine these massive bastards right… like giant looking fellas, standing out on the rocks. Like I’m talking sprouts here some eight metres tall like. Absolute mega bastards or mega fungi or whatever. Like something out of a book of madness.”
I was captivated.
Another wacky and wonderful function of these fungal beings is their work as trash compactors. Much like human beings, nature produces its own upheavals of trash: dead leaves, dead bodies, dead anything. Something has to be done with it, and here our old and wonderful friends bring forth their help, eating away at the scraps and unpleasantries. If not for mushrooms the planet would lie littered beneath a mountainous layer of dead plant and animal matter choking the life beneath it. This combined with the fact that mushrooms do not need light to grow, would indicate that these creatures are a definitive reason why anything is alive at all.
Let us return to my friend for insight:
“Here’s a fact true as bones for you. There’s about a bajillion of these mushroomy fellas out there and we don’t know nothing about them. We hardly even know what we don’t know, and we’re not even sure about that.”
It’s a fair point. The assumption at present is that only 1% of fungi species have been discovered, and given that this tiny sliver has given us everything from psilocybin to penicillin, it’s remarkable what may be uncovered with future discoveries.
So what’s this all really about then? What’s the point? Well I have to get something off my chest. I don’t have a friend who told me these things. I probably wouldn’t have listened if I did. But if I can say anything with conviction, it’s that everything he said was true.
Mushrooms are the future.