Awesome on top of more awesome. If you are looking for the world of strange, odd, even alien, then check out the Fungi Kingdom. Mushroom is a great way to introduce yourself to the basics of fungi. Nicholas Money brings his own sense of wonder and his acerbic sense of humor to this book. The book was organized into easily digestible chapters filled with all sorts of tasty bits of info.
Beatrix Potter, the author of those little bunny books, was a mushroom hunter – with watercolors. Her efforts at building the knowledge of mushrooms went unrecognized at the time and it was cool to see a nod to those efforts here. The life cycle of the mushrooming fungi was a mystery until as late as WWI. Humans have been eating these things since probably before we were fully human. Lots of animals eat mushrooms, including my chickens. The fact that it took so long to figure out this much is a testament to how odd an organism the mushroom is.
There is no correlation between the color of the mushroom and toxicity. There may be some correlation between odor and toxicity, but why some mushrooms are more poisonous and others are not is not well understood. Some are inedible uncooked but perfectly fine, and quite delicious, after cooking. Mushrooms were first cultivated for eating by the French King Louis XIV using animal dung. Reliable cultivation has always been tricky and that is why so few mushroom varieties are available in the store. The white button mushrooms, criminis (or baby bellas) and portobellas are all the same species of mushroom – just some are allowed to grow bigger than others. I know – I felt cheated too when I read that.
Modern genetic science have made it possible to identify some of the largest living organisms on Earth – fungus. Specifically, the largest identified so far is a honey mushroom of the Malheur National Forest in Oregon at 2200 acres. Samples of the fruiting bodies (mushrooms) were taken throughout the national forest and DNA tests show that the mushrooms all sprout from the same underground mycelium. I don’t know about you, but my mind has a hiccup trying to wrap around that. There is also evidence that some mushrooming fungi can live 100s to 1000s of years. Another thing to think about is the size of the mushroom cap of the Termitomyces titanicus – up to 1 meter!
Mushroom spores can be found everywhere. Hence, mushrooms have turned up in some of the oddest places, and I don’t mean just under the kitchen sink. They have been found in the human body: nose, throat, brain, bone marrow, and even on an installed prosthetic heart valve. Yeah. Mushrooms can sometimes have the creepiness factor going on. Even so, some mushrooms form symbiotic relationships with insects; the fungus gets tended to while providing nutrition for harvest to the insects. Leaf cutter ants and African fungus-growing termites are two examples.
So even with all those bits of info, I have left plenty for you to discover on your own. Enjoy!