British Columbia’s old temperate rainforests are some of the last remaining intact forest communities on Earth. (Susanne Instance photo)

British Columbia’s old temperate rainforests are some of the last remaining intact forest communities on Earth. (Susanne Instance photo)

Get Outdoors! and discover the fungal kingdom

To respect them you need to know them

Have you heard the latest findings of the Wood Wide Web?

It’s quickly gaining in notoriety. Scientists are discovering the amazing fungal kingdom that, until now, has been underestimated. One of those leading scientists is Suzanne Simard, originally from the mushroom-rich world of Mabel Lake, now at UBC. She’s gaining international recognition for her mycorrhizal experiments and studies.

Wild mushrooms may have rotted away since the last frost, but their countless spores are growing and spreading into mycelial networks underground creating fungal life-giving community connections between trees and other plants. This is known as the mycorrhizal network (myco is Latin for fungus, rhizomes are roots); the fungal connections between plant roots.

Plants, especially trees, require fungi to wrap around their roots to help them absorb water and nutrients to grow. It’s a symbiotic relationship. The fungi receive the trees’ photosynthesised sugars for growth energy to spread and reach other trees roots. Thereby a networked community can send messages, chemicals and nutrients to one another. This is how trees “talk to” and “feed” one another. It’s the basis of forest ecology.

I used to often say, “Mushrooms are amazing!” But, it’s really fungi that’s fantastic! Mushrooms are the fruiting body of fungi that contain and spread the spores for the new mycelium to grow and spread.

Animals grow up to a certain size and have a limited lifespan. Plants also grow to a certain size and their lifespan gets limited by external factors. But fungi can keep spreading if their environment allows it. They grow onto their food source, excrete enzymes, then absorb the nutrients which allow them to grow and spread. Some fungal mycelium bodies are the biggest and oldest organisms on Earth. They deserve our respect.

To respect them you need to know them. Here are some great resources:

Leading American mycologist, Paul Stamets has written many excellent mushroom books (available from our library). He owns Fungi Perfecti selling all sorts of mushroom paraphernalia including mushroom T-shirts, grow your own mushroom spores and kits, books, processing equipment and much more.

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben is a fabulous introduction to the mycorrhizal network.

My favourite mushroom field guide, All That the Rain Promises by David Arora, is the best book for BC wild mushroom identification and it’s fun to read, too.

Entangled Life by Rupert Sheldrake, and Paul Stamets’ Fantastic Fungi are amazing in-depth books about fungi.

Mycophilia by accomplished food writer and cookbook author Eugenia Bone examines the role of fungi as exotic delicacy, curative, poison, hallucinogen, and environmental remediation.

Know Your Mushrooms and Fantastic Fungi are two of the many intriguing mushroom videos out now.

Check these books and videos out! You’ll appreciate and enjoy mushrooms and fungi in a whole new way.