Fungi in human culture
Everyone knows mushrooms pop up after thunderstorms, right? Japanese mushroom farmers sometimes deploy electric shocks to get their shiitake mushrooms to fruit. So, what would happen if you wandered around in the forest zapping the ground?
It’s possible to walk down a street and not see any fungi… for some people. CUP Herbarium Curator Scott LaGreca sees lichens wherever he goes. Here he talks about the tree-dwelling lichens along Cornell’s main thoroughfare, Tower Rd, and what they suggest about air quality on our upstate New York campus.
The best gifts keep on giving. This artist’s conk (Ganoderma applanatum) came to me by post. It turned out to be quite literally full of surprises. Eleven unexpected organisms popped out of it: one other fungus, and ten fascinating beetles. Also, and this was really quite satisfying: when it arrived, I knew I had won the argument.
This week a fictional fungal villain is making life at Cornell pretty surreal. Paul McEuen’s new thriller, Spiral, has just been released, and not only is it set here, at Cornell, in Ithaca, and inside my Herbarium, it features a heroine who is inspired partly by, um, me!
The fungus Fomitopsis officinalis has a long history of use in North America and elsewhere, both as medicine and as a medium of ritualistic art. Read about Agarikon and its uses, and follow Fungi Perfecti President Paul Stamets on a successful expedition to find this rare mushroom.
Although surely many Native American peoples were experts on fungi, we have little knowledge of how they used them, particularly the more ephemeral mushrooms. Here’s a primer on three different bracket fungi (conks) used by some native peoples.
In which a prodigious colony of puffballs consumes my pile of mulch. Yesterday I walked by them at the tail end of a downpour. The last raindrops were generating little snorts of spores like dragon smoke. Go ahead, give them a stomp or two, but don’t inhale puffball spores in excess, people, it will not end well.
Fungi are good at binding stuff with their filamentous cells. Now a group of New York entrepreneurs at Ecovative is producing sustainable packaging and insulation based on agricultural wastes bound by fungal mycelium. So instead of petroleum-based styrofoam, they can grow us some packing materials in whatever shape we like.
Eyes tired from too much reading? Use your ears for a change to listen to Science Friday do fungi in a radio show called “Fungi: the good, the bad, and the edible.” The show features your humble editor, Kathie Hodge, along with mycologist and author David Fischer, and guests Kelli Hoover and Arturo Casadevall. We field calls about everything from foxfire to species concepts and the extraterrestrial origins of fungi(!).