I confess that nothing frightens me more than the appearance of mushrooms on the table, especially in a small provincial town.

ALEXANDRE DUMAS (1802-70)

Mushrooms

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Fungus Kingdom


Mushrooms are fungi. They are generally accepted as a kingdom separate from both plants and animals. Though, like plants, they don't move and seem to grow in a similar manner, they have a very different cellular structure. Their DNA is more similar to that of animals. Like animals, they get their energy from food, though they don't eat in the familiar sense of the term, but absorb nutrients from their surroundings.

Other familiar fungi include truffles, moulds, yeasts, and various disease-causing organisms, including those responsible for athlete's foot and ringworm.

The mushroom is the organ of sexual reproduction (fruit) of a fungus. Mycellium is the long threads of fungus which grow in a network, off which the mushrooms grow. Sylvan Inc is the company which grows commercial mycellium – they produce the spawn for 60% of all the mushrooms in the shops.

Nearly all the white buttons in the world descend from a single patch found in America  about 100 years ago. 

Deadly Mushroom


Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) is the mushroom that is responsible for the vast majority of mushroom-related deaths. It contains two types of toxins spread throughout the mushroom thallus: phallotoxins and amatoxins. The toxin most responsible for the deadly effects of the Death Cap is alpha-amanitin. It particularly affects the liver and kidneys; frequently the only treatment for death cap poisoning is liver transplant.

It is estimated that 50 grams (2 oz) of this mushroom is enough to kill a human. One of the reasons for the number of fatalities is that Death Cap tastes so lovely that victims often eat a large quantity before feeling a bit ill.

SHIRLEY CONRAN

Life is too short to stuff a mushroom. 

Magic Mushrooms


There are roughly 200 species of mushroom that can be classified as ‘magic’. For thousands of years they have been widely used in Central America for religious ceremonies. The Aztecs called them teonanacatl, or ‘flesh of the gods’.

Magic mushrooms contain the mind altering compound psilocybin and although they can be eaten for their hallucinogenic affects, they can also make you very sick. The old-fashioned thing to do was to feed them to the village idiot, then drink his urine because that’s a good way to get all of the high without any of the sickness. 

Rainmakers


Mushrooms maybe rainmakers. They start to grow in damp conditions and when they reach maturity they release millions of tons of spores into the atmosphere. Scientific evidence suggests that the spores can act as nuclei for the formation of raindrops in clouds; sugars on a spore’s surface attract and hold water from the surrounding environment.

So there is a wonderful positive feedback loop where fungi that require rain for growth shed massive amounts of spores that promote rainfall. Scientists believe this could happen in tropical rain forests heavily populated by mushrooms and other fungi. 

Reindeer are particularly partial to magic mushrooms.

Patriotic Mushrooms


North Korea has recently published 310 new patriotic slogans including: 'Let us turn ours into a country of mushrooms by making mushroom cultivation scientific, intensive and industrialised!' 

GEORGE R. R. MARTIN

My sister has mistaken me for a mushroom. She keeps me in the dark and feeds me shit.

Red squirrels in New England, USA harvest mushrooms and carry them up into trees where they dry them in the sun and store them to eat later.

The world’s biggest organism is a fungus in Oregon that covers an area equivalent to 1,665 American football fields (nearly 10 square km).

Ever since an 11-ton mushroom was discovered in Crystal Falls, Michigan, they have held the annual Humungus Fungus Festival.

Foetid Parachute


Mushrooms have an extraordinary range of names. Here are some of our favourites:  

Pink Disco, Greasy Bracket, Powdery Piggyback, White Brain, Jelly Ear, Verdigris Navel, Fragrant Funnel, Cinnamon Jellybaby, Witches' Butter, Slimy Earthtongue, Foetid Parachute, Hotlips, Twisted Deceiver, Bog Cannon, Gassy Knight and the Hairy Nuts Disco. 

New Mushrooms


In September 2014, a couple of mycologists from Kew Gardens analysed the DNA of a supermarket packet of porcini mushrooms. They found three species unknown to science. The scientists named them (in Latin) 'white beef liver', 'delicious cattle liver fungus' and 'edible'.

18 new species of porcini have been discovered since the year 2000.

In terms of fungi as a whole, about 1,200 new species are added every year. 

Warlike Mushrooms


Fungi may account for up to 25% of the earth’s biomass and they are surprisingly aggressive.

If a Trichoderma fungus bumps into another species, it grasps it with its hyphae (thin tubes used to gather nutrients from the soil) and squeezes the food out of it.

Some fungi launch gas warfare; the Sulphur Tuft produces chemical agents which have effects as deadly as nerve gas to humans.

The Turkey Tail fungus secretes poisonous enzymes into the food that its prey feeds on.

Mushrooms can also catch nematode worms, push their hyphae into the worm's body and liquidise them.

Other mushrooms choke their victims by blocking up their breathing tubes. Mushrooms attack the weakest first and only go for the others when confident of having beaten the first one. 

Mushrooms create their own wind to disperse their spores.

KATHERINE MANSFIELD (1888-1923)

If only one could tell true love from false love as one can tell mushrooms from toadstools.

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Scientists analysing DNA from a single packet of dried mushrooms bought in a shop in Twickenham, identified 3 new species.

Soldiers in both World Wars attached bioluminescent fungi to their helmets so they could spot each other in the dark.

Giant Mushrooms


It is believed that before plants really got going, mushrooms were absolutely top dog. They were as big as three feet across and up to eight metres high. Plants at the time were only a few feet high. 

Mushrooms don't care whether the lights are on or not; they are grown in the dark in order to save electricity.

No Swede considered mushrooms fit for human consumption until 1818.