I’ve always known that there are mushrooms and fungi and yeasts and strange underground things called truffles. And I’ve increasingly become aware of just how interconnected is all life on earth, which shows through as one of the themes in this blog. What I had not fully realised is that fungi are fundamental building blocks of this interconnected life, even to the extent that plants could not exist without them, and live in symbiosis with them. Of course this also applies to animals, including human beings. Indeed, some of the largest beings on the planet are fungi.
The actual fungal body is the mycelium of threads (hyphae) that runs through the earth, the compost heap, the rotting corpse, the living being. The mushroom and truffle are the fruit, which provides the mechanism to facilitate spreading of the spores.
For millennia fungi have provided the means for human relaxation and psychological transcendence, through psychedelic mushrooms and the alcoholic beverages that come from fermentation through yeasts, which are also simple fungi. Who knows what role they played in the visions of prophets and mystics, and the evolution of the human psyche.
All this and more is the subject of Merlin Sheldrake’s book Entangled Life. It is a very readable story of the discoveries of modern science related to fungi, woven with Merlin’s own personal journey. Well worthy reading for a better insight into the ever-increasing complexity of our understanding of the natural world, which is just about keeping pace with our ignorant destruction of it.
I should perhaps declare a minor bias, in that Merlin’s illustrious father Rupert Sheldrake stayed overnight at our house in the early 90s, in order to give his Knutsford Lecture on Visions of a New Renaissance. Rupert’s innovative approach to science, that led to his theory of morphic resonance, appears to have rubbed off well onto his son Merlin, who is proving to be another great communicator of science.
Featured image of edible fungi in a basket is by George Chernilevsky, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
I seem to have come across a few black fungi recently, so tried to identify them.
This one was in grassland on a cliff in Devon in the summer, 1-2 inches across. I’m not sure about this, but it could be indigo pinkgill.
This one was on a dead birch log in the autumn in Cheshire, a few centimetres across, part of a group of varying sizes. I think this is King Alfred’s Cake fungus, so named because it looks like burnt cake. Surprisingly, it can be used as tinder.
The final one is a much larger bracket fungus (6-8 inches) in Derbyshire in the autumn, on a dead beech stump. A common name is willow bracket, but it is found on other broad leaved trees. This is another fungus that was used for kindling.
This damp autumn has seen many fungi in Britain. These shaggy ink cap mushrooms were at Shakerley Mere, Cheshire.
These are said to be edible for just a few hours after picking, they rapidly turn black (hence ‘ink cap’) and decompose. According to Wikipedia they “can sometimes be confused with the magpie ink cap which is poisonous”. The usual rule applies – don’t eat wild fungi unless you know what you are doing.
Compare also the recently posted similar but prettier glistening inkcap – same family, obviously.