Have you ever played ‘Animal, Vegetable or Mineral’? You know, the guessing game where one person thinks of an object, then whoever else has to guess what the object is through a series of questions? Technically speaking, mushrooms don’t fall into any of the three categories, though they do tend to get thrown in with the vegetables as they represent their closest relative. The things that we eat are really just the ‘fruit’ of a fungus, and not much like any other vegetable at all. They can grow pretty much anywhere without cultivation where there’s a bit of moisture and there are a lot of things about mushrooms which make them quite remarkable. Here for your enjoyment is my list of top five ‘Fungus Facts’, some of which you’ll probably know, but there are one or two which might surprise you…
1) The world’s biggest living organism is a mushroom! Not a whale, or even one of those giant redwood trees, but a mushroom. See, the majority of a mushroom ‘plant’ lives underground, and the bits we think of as mushrooms are only little bits that poke themselves out of the soil. This super-giant mushroom is to be found in the Malheur National Forest in the US state of Oregon, and at last count covered an area of 2,200 acres. Its estimated age is at least 2,400 years, which is quite impressive. Unfortunately, it does have a bad habit of killing trees, especially unfortunate in a forest, even if you do have a dead tree fetish.
2) Magic mushrooms! Yes, you knew I wouldn’t be able to get through a mushroom-related post without giving them a mention… Psilocybin mushrooms as they’re properly known have been used for many thousands of years, originally in shamanic and religious rituals, until those pesky Xians put a stop to it, believing them to be the work of the devil. Unsurprisingly, 1960s drug guru Timothy Leary was a big advocate of their use and helped spread their popularity for recreational purposes. There are lots of different varieties, and if you have a quick search on the internet, there are plenty of grow-your-own kits available to buy online. From personal experience, I would suggest avoiding following this route, as it is very difficult to know exactly how potent your home grown mushrooms are. Stick with LSD instead, it’s more reliable and doesn’t taste yucky either!
3) The most expensive mushrooms in the world are a variety called matsutake, or pine mushrooms. Predominantly found in Asia (though they do appear in Europe and North America too) the more desirable early season crops can sell for up to £2000 per kilogram! Why so expensive? Dead trees, yet again! This time it isn’t the fault of the fungus, but a pesky insect that has vastly reduced the population of the species of tree that the matsutake likes to grow under, and quite happily co-exist with. The rarer something is, the more expensive it becomes, and that’s what has made this particular mushroom worth its weight in gold. Sort of…
4) When is a mushroom not a mushroom? When it’s Quorn. The popular vegetarian ‘pretend meat’ product used to say on its packaging that it was derived from mushrooms, but after a lengthy and no doubt exciting legal battle involving lots of mycologists (experts in the ‘field’ of mushrooms) the manufacturers had to remove the claim, as quorn is technically made from a fungus, or more specifically a variety of soil mould, and not a mushroom at all. Obviously they realised that putting that on their sausages and mince wouldn’t encourage sales, so now they refer to it as ‘mycoprotein’ which is far more ambiguous and less likely to put people off. For the record, I quite like quorn, even if it is mould!
5) Mushroom plastic! It’s true! In the last 3 years, a number of eco-conscious companies have been developing an alternative to styrofoam made from mushrooms. This is great news on lots of levels, as plastic in general and styrofoam in particular isn’t very good for the environment, or humans themselves. It’s full of icky stuff, is made from petroleum which isn’t sustainable and has a bad habit of hanging around for many thousands of years once it’s discarded. This new mushroom alternative is sustainable, it’s a lot cleaner, easier and cheaper to manufacture, and even better, when you throw it away, it actually does the earth good instead of harm. Fantastic stuff!
So there we have it, my top five fungus facts. Whether you like mushrooms or not, hopefully you’ll now look upon them with a new found respect. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, here’s a handy link to a post I did last year on the subject of mushrooms (link!) It’s fiction (or is it???) and it’s not very long, and if you do check it out it’ll give me more site views ;)
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Back next time, some time, maybe with another audio post,but if it’s taking too long I’ll sneak something else in before then…
Mushroomy kisses… ses X