Do you know what happens to a mushroom when it rains?
from: Mushroom in the Rain
written by Vladimir Suteev
translated from the Russian by Mirra Ginsburg
illustrated by Jose Aruego and Arianne Dewey
Aladdin Books/Simon & Schuster, 1974
accessed on YouTube 9/7/2020
The last time it rained at my house, I found beautiful, golden mushrooms ringing a wreath around my forsythia. Several things came together when I saw that. I had a memory-flash of pouring over a mushroom guide with my grandson and cautioning him to NEVER, EVER taste one he might find outside! I thought of a friend who was the mushroom expert at our county Poison Control Center. And I just finished a book by Merlin Sheldrake called Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, & Shape our Futures (Random House, 2020).
Fungi make up their own life-form, separate from the animal, vegetable, bacteria, and protist (all the single-celled life forms not bacteria) categories. It’s true that there is some overlap, confusion, even controversy. While the Five Kingdoms are the accepted standard, some scientists have divided protists further. Some have even suggested Seven Kingdoms. I’ll leave that to them and refocus on fungi.
Some surprising facts from https://www.sciencekids.co.nz/sciencefacts/food/mushrooms.html
- Mushrooms get the energy they need to survive without using photosynthesis.
- Modern studies show mushrooms have many medical benefits. (ALWAYS check with your doctor first!)
- One portobello can contain more potassium than a banana. (Good thing. I hate bananas!)
- Mushrooms are about 90% water.
- China produces about half of all cultivated mushrooms.
- Over 30 species of mushroom produce the chemical reaction, bioluminescence. They glow in the dark.
- Before synthetic dyes were invented, mushrooms were used for dying many natural fibers. They produce strong, vivid colors.
- and from https://earthsky.org/earth/largest-land-organism-honey-fungus: The largest fungus in North America lives in Oregon. It is a honey fungus that measures 3.4 miles across.
Most fungi are either sapotrophic (which thrive on dead, organic substances like fallen tree trunks) or mycorrhizal (in symbiosis with living, woody plants).
A symbiotic relationship, one where each organism benefits the other, is a win-win. It has been clearly shown since at least 2009, that trees and fungi both fair better when they are in symbiosis with each other. And almost 90% are.
A May 15, 2019, article in phys.org, https://phys.org/news/2019-05-symbiotic-relationships-trees-microbes-worldwide.html describes a group of Stanford researchers who worked with 200 scientists and discovered Read’s Rule, named after a pioneer in symbiosis research, Sir David Read. Simply put, the rule states “symbiotic relationships obey clear rules and are strongly related to climate, and that climate change is likely to have massive impacts on the symbiotic state of the world’s forests.”
The researchers and scientists mapped the locations of millions of trees and their symbiotic fungal relationships to determine how climate, soil chemistry, local vegetation, and the particular topography of an area affect how well each symbiotic relationship works.
Two types of symbioses help trees, each in its own way:
arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi help promote growth by improving the ability of trees to take up water and nutrients from the soil and help them grow stronger.
ectomycorrhizal fungi are are believed to improve plant health by encouraging a plant’s resistance to stresses such as drought, salinity, heavy metals, and pathogens like the harmful types of fungi.
What’s in it for the fungi? Since they don’t make their own energy through photosynthesis, fungi depend on their host plants to provide energy producing sugars the fungi need to sustain their own growth.
Fungi even help control the amount of carbon in our atmosphere. Ectomycorrhizal fungi are mostly found in temperate and cold climates. They work in a slow carbon cycle and help pull carbon from the atmosphere. Wood and other organic matter decay slowly. But, as temperatures rise, our temperate and cool-climate trees along with their fungal networks are finding it harder and harder to survive. They are being lost and replaced by their tropical, fast-carbon-cycle cousins.
Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi are more dominant in the tropics. They are faster growing and promote fast carbon cycling. They help promote growth by improving a tree’s ability to take up water and nutrients from the soil, but due to higher overall temperatures, droughts, and deforestation tropical rain forests are consuming a third less carbon than they did in the 1990s.
These trends are likely to continue. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/04/tropical-forests-losing-their-ability-to-absorb-carbon-study-finds
As the Wood Wide Web (no kidding, it’s a real thing https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/05/wood-wide-web-underground-network-microbes-connects-trees-mapped-first-time) continues to be a focus of study for mycologists, dendrologists, and regular biologists, we’re all learning how strong connections to our planet and each other are necessary for our collective survival.
-—stay curious! (and eat mushrooms —
from a trusted market or grocery store only!)