Monthly Archives: April 2015

Mycophilia – For the Love of Fungi

While climatologically it has been the warmest winter since they’ve been keeping records, here in PA it’s been a cold winter with a very slow transition into spring. I haven’t been able to do very much work in the garden.

downloadBut snuggled in the house, I’ve been doing some reading. One of the books that has fueled my imagination is Mycopilia: Revelations from the Weird World of Mushrooms by Eugenia Bone.

While reading this book, I realized how little I think of fungi and how little I know about them. In college, fungi were a small part of botany class and in plant pathology we learned about the fungal diseases of plants. But I never realized how ubiquitous fungi are. Fungi are the second largest group of organisms (insects are the largest).

I was amazed to learn that fungi are a class of organisms that, while they look like plants, are more closely related to animals. The cell walls of fungi are made of chitin, the substance that makes up crab shells and isn’t found in plants. Fungi store carbon as glycogen, not starch, just like animals. And the ribosomal RNA of fungi is 80-85% the same as our rRNA. I’ll never look at a mushroom or spot of mold in the same way now that I know these organisms are more animal-like than plant-like.

When I think about soil, I knew that there are fungi in it, but my focus has always been on the bacteria in soil that break down organic matter. While the bacteria are important, the fungi are the real workhorses of rot and decay. Mycophilia has made me want to learn more about the role of fungi in healthy soil.

As a word lover, I also appreciated some of the new words that I learned from this book. My two favorites are mycoremediation and entheogenic mushrooms. Mycoremediation describes the technique of using fungi to break down specific waste in the environment. Who knew that fungi could break down oil? Entheogenic means “to create god within” and is used to define hallucinogenic mushrooms that are used to create a spiritual experience. I doubt I’ll ever be able to work these words into a conversation, but I like them none the less!

This book can be a little tedious at times when Bone is name dropping and describing her travels to hunt mushrooms. But despite this, the book is filled with information about mushrooms and fungi. Mycophilia hasn’t inspired me to start foraging for mushrooms or to try to have a mushroom-fueled entheogenic experience (maybe I can work this word into conversations!), but it has sent me on a quest to learn more about this amazing and mysterious group of organisms. That alone make this book worth reading.