I am just a girl in love with mushrooms. Well, love may be a strong word, but anything “earthy” brings joy to my soul; mushrooms are my recent fascination. Strangely enough, my interest was sparked by the depiction of animated mushrooms in an anime called “Little Witch Academia.” If you are not familiar with the series, it is a whimsical story of a young girl who goes to a witch academy to live out her dream of being just like her role model, the infamous Chariot. One of her friends, Sucy is a fellow witch who is the resident emo/goth character, which immediately makes her my favorite. From the first episode, Sucy has a unique obsession with mushrooms and, my enjoyment of her character led me to see mushrooms as something a little more special then I had previously considered.
My knowledge of Mushrooms is suprisingly little: I am familiar with the few types of mushrooms that I regularly eat, I know that mushrooms are fungi, there are poisonous mushrooms, and they are the poster child of 1970s hallucogenics.
Needless to say, some research is in order.
Mushrooms 101: What Makes Mushrooms So Special?
It is a natural inclination to want to use the term “plant” when talking about mushrooms. But mushrooms, if you recall, are their own kingdom, separate from plants and animals. Mushrooms possess their own personalities and traits, and are quite remarkable creations.
Mushrooms are nutrient-dense, impressive self-cultivators, and are the anti-heroes of living things.
The benefits and behaviors of mushrooms are overwhelming. Let’s start with how they behave. Mushrooms grow at an incredible rate – some types of mushrooms grow 0.2 inches per minute, while others take several days. Mushrooms grow by metabolizing non-living organic matter. This “consumption” causes mushrooms to be incredibly sustainable for the environment; they help to lower the carbon footprint generated by other forms of production, and may also be the tool to help purify the earth. Mushrooms have been used in a process called mycoremediation to remove toxic waste after events such as wildfires. While their full potential has yet to be understood, mushrooms are an important part of ensuring the longevity of the earth.
There are a long list of the many different types of mushrooms. It is difficult to obtain an exact count between “wild” and “edible” mushrooms, because both terms, when referring to mushrooms, are misnomers. There are many mushrooms that we eat regularly that are found “wild,” that is, not farmed. There are also many variants of mushrooms that are not part of our agricultural process, but that you would easily find by foraging and that are completely edible. That being said, it is not recommended to eat the next mushroom that you see sticking out of a tree stump, unless you know that it won’t kill you.
So how are mushrooms the anti-hero? Fascinatingly enough, despite their nourishing and positive impact on our ecosystem, mushrooms also have the potential to be ecologically toxic.
BBC News highlights that mushrooms are fungi that can breed a wealth of benefit to our ecosytem – they are essential to the survival of the earth and are an inspiring hope for the future of sustainability. But aside from the obvious downside of certain toxic and lethal breeds, “they have a darker side: devastating trees, crops and other plants across the world, and wiping out animals such as amphibians.”
Some types of mushrooms are responsible for diseases in plants and in humans. However, it is important to understand that the Fungi Kingdom is immense, and not all types are damaging. In a future post I will be exploring the different types of mushrooms/fungi that are found and the impact they have.
What surprised you the most about mushrooms?