Massive mycelium networks move carbon, nutrients and messages between trees.

Mushrooms: are they the LEAST understood life form?

I was raised with the idea that fungi is neither plant nor animal, and somehow therefore less significant than lifeforms that can lord it up with their very own kingdom. I was also told not to pick them, but the ones from shops taste great when fried in butter. Not everything I was told about mushrooms was wrong, just most of it. 

We all know that old trees are like cities full of interdependent life. The older they get the more complex and involved the relationships. An old oak tree like this one will support many millions of other lives. Whole families and strains from multiple classes of life may live and die within the tree’s overall system.

Despite this knowledge, a cursory glance at Google will bring up all sorts of advice concerning ‘mushrooms’ and ‘trees’ – most of which focusses on how to remove the former from the latter. 

The thinking is based in sound(ish) observation: mushrooms seem to pop up (often very quickly, often after stress) at the base of the tree, and then the tree can be seen to ‘decline’ in ‘health’.

The number of quotation marks here is in direct proportion to the level of credibility of these crude and simple assumptions.  

Very large old oak tree stands alone in a field

You see, in order for the tree to show fruiting bodies at the trunk, then the tree must, by definition, contain within itself a much larger mycelial network. 

By ‘much larger’ we could be looking at near total inoculation of the entire tree, roots and all. Fungi can account for fully 30% of a mature evergreen forest by weight. The mycelium is largely hidden of course, but there is evidence visible to the naked eye that the network exists

Have you ever noticed how mushrooms can pop up and be fully grown within a coupe of days? This is because…

All of the mushroom fruit is already fully grown within the mycelial network before we even see a tiny pin reach for the air. The fruit is ready and ripe, and the fungi simply has to move the carbon around.

The mycelial network is a whole tangle of thread-like cells that can be vast and cover many hundreds or thousands of trees over huge areas. The largest living organism in the world is right now deemed to be a honey fungus found in Oregon, USA. Gardeners are supposed to ‘hate’ honey fungus because of the ‘damage’ they ’cause’ to plants. But messages must be getting lost somewhere between the garden and the kitchen, because honey fungi is delicious when fried with chilli, garlic and parsley, and served on fresh spaghetti.

Even the BBC published their honey fungus piece with some common mis-conceptions fully on display. 

The Armillarilia family, within which we place honey fungus, will apparently  “colonise and kill a variety of trees and woody plants.” – this is almost totally untrue, and would be wholly unbelievable if the evidence in front of our eyes didn’t closely resemble a dying tree with mushrooms at its base. 

Despite what we think we are looking at in our own back garden, the Blue Mountain honey fungus hasn’t cleared the forest yet. Despite hosting the largest living thing on earth, the Blue Mountains remain just as glaucous as a thousand million fronds of Douglas fir. 

What ARE the fungus up to?

Obviously, fungi are organisms capable of knowing where their bread is buttered. The tree gives carbon and sugar, and the fungi moves nutrients around on behalf of the tree. The fungi, inoculated throughout the tree system, can move nutrients far, and fast. The fungus also communicates with the trees of which it is a part. 

Trees in the same group will benefit from this food supply, and the fungus won’t help trees that aren’t in the same group. The network will only move the earth for you only if you allow it to blow your mind at the same time. Or branches and leaves, whatever it is that your family tends to have. 

Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus. It is a network of cells living within and throughout almost all landmasses on Earth. More than 8 miles of these cells can be found in a cubic inch of soil.

Paul Stamets - Mycelium Running Tweet

If you prefer mushrooms to mould, then start with a fully inoculated spore block.

You don’t have a mature forest in your kitchen (if you do this is both impressive and noteworthy), so we need some carbon to start us off. We get this from oak sawdust mixed with recycled organic matter – this creates the perfect density block in which we can keep our mycelium running (Paul Stamets stresses the importance of keeping the network running at full speed, as even a small setback can impair the organism forever). 

The spore blocks that we sell on this site are fully inoculated with a vigorous and tasty strain of oyster mushrooms – 

You’ll know this if you’ve picked them, but shop bought specimens are often limp and nothing like as good as home-grown oysters fried in butter, on toast. 

Run, Forest, run.

When our sterile lab-grade partners dispatch your spore block it will, as far as the fungi is concerned, have just been plunged into autumn. Great! This is mushroom’s favourite time of year! Follow the simple instructions here to keep the organism happy and fruitful for several flushes of fresh oyster mushrooms!

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