Cornell University

fungi

Sacred mushrooms

Mushrooms as Sacred Objects in North America

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.

my hand lenses

lately in the public lens

I’m always surprised at how little most people know about fungi. As you know, I love fungi very much, and I also like to teach. So I often find myself giving talks to introduce people to the weird and cool things that fungi do, leading walks in the woods, or (ahem), editing a blog about them. Here is a short compilation of web-accessible popular lectures, interviews, and stuff I’ve done lately. Also, some bonus advice on hand lenses.

puffballs!

Puffballs ate my mulch

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 as insulation

The fungus you want in your walls

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.

Hypholoma sublateritium

Taming The Fungus

Many tasty mushrooms aren’t hard to culture, if you know the tricks. Here is our illustrated primer on making a clean tissue culture of a wild or cultivated mushroom. Later you can try to get it to fruit in your basement or backyard!

smells like maple syrup

Lactarius helvus, the maple syrup milky cap

Milky caps are distinctive mushrooms that “bleed” milk when you break them. So it’s easy to recognize the genus, Lactarius, but it’s often tricky to identify the drab ones to species. Here’s one that smells like maple syrup, or fenugreek. But although it smells like things you can eat, don’t eat it, or you’ll be sorry.

Boletus edulis

How to eat a bolete

King boletes are among the most delicious of mushrooms, so why is it that I am so bad at finding them? Some of their sisters are also delicious edibles; a few are not so good. This piece is not so much a guide to boletes, but rather an account of how to eat them.

Narceus millipede

Small friends of fungi

An homage to the Little Things that run the world. Oh how we love them in all their unplumbed diversity! Here is a thoughtful reminder of the roles of the small and oft-overlooked members of the Dead Plants Society, courtesy of our many-legged guest, Bob Mesibov.

a fungus in amber

Paleomycology: Discovering the fungal contemporaries of dinosaurs

Fungi tend to be small, soft, and ephemeral — properties that don’t exactly help establish a strong presence in the fossil record. But they certainly have been around for a long time (perhaps 4 billion years?). Here we explore some of the fungi of the distant past, including some molds preserved perfectly in amber for tens of millions of years.

About

Most people don't pay much attention to fungi, which include things like mushrooms, molds, yeasts, and mildews. Here at Cornell we think they're pretty fascinating. In fact, even the most disgusting foot diseases and moldy strawberries are dear to our hearts. We'd like to talk to you about fungi, so that like us, you too can tell gross stories at the dinner table. Afterwards, maybe you'll notice some things you would have overlooked before, and we think this could be good for the planet.

Kathie T. Hodge, Editor

Beneath Notice, our book of borescopic mycology.

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