The deadline for my column was rapidly approaching. I had planned to write about the role that fungi play in our daily lives but I was having trouble concentrating. Everyone knows that fungi are important. These organisms cannot make their own food instead they feed on other plants and even off of animal material. Fungi break down organic matter to form that can be used again by plants. Fungi help with the Earth’s recycling system.

I plopped down on the old sofa and the resulting dust cloud caused me to sneeze for ten minutes. (It is not the dust that causes allergic reactions but the mildew that live on the dust particles.)

After recovering I glanced at the smut-filled tabloid–_Naturalists Exposed_–lying at my side. (Smut is fungus that appears as a black stain on plants, usually killing it. We now associate smut with anything dirty or low. This illustrates how
Most people view the fungi, with disgust.)

The headlines read, ” LSD-crazed Biologist Claims Slime Molds Are Aliens: Protoplasmic Streaming Simply a Cover-up for Advanced Space Travel.” Lysergic acid diethylamide comes from ergot. This fungus invades rye flowers and replaces the fruit. It creates several powerful toxins. Upon eating bread infected with this rye entire European villages would go mad and die. This was the cause of the infamous St. Anthony’s fire. The biologist became confused about slime molds. Even in the absence of LSD this is understandable. We consider slime molds to be fungi but they behave almost like a very slimy animal, slithering over leaves engulfing everything in their path.)

The Chronicle’s lead story wasn’t much better, “Seattle Couple
Get Second Liver Transplant.” (This couple had accidentally eaten Amanita phalloides, the Death Cap. Fatality results in about 50%of these cases. The toxins attack the kidneys and liver. There is an oft-quoted saying that there are bold mushroom hunters and
There are bold mushroom hunters but there are no old bold mushroom hunters.)

I still needed to do alot of research but hunger was getting the best of me. A toasted cheese and tomato sandwich covered with Roquefort dressing was just the ticket. The tomato was the last one from the garden; all the others were suffering from blossom-end rot. (Yeast, another fungus, was the first domesticated

The sandwich was good but not quite enough. I searched the refrigerator for still more treats. The leftover Stroganoff looked good until I opened it. Yech. There were interesting swirls of blue and green; after a month in the Tupperware the contents were disgusting.

Suddenly I was no longer hungry so I plopped back down on the couch. This time the left corner leg went right through the floor. Dry rot! Thank goodness I’m a renter.

Fungus, fungus, fungus where does it fit in? This thought kept nagging me. Also nagging me was my little toe. It itched from athlete’s foot. And then there was that redwood splinter in my arm. It was starting to fester and I am allergic to penicillin.

What does fungus mean to me? I felt somehow I was on the right track. Maybe a beer would help me think.

Hmmm beer, thank you yeast!



Posted on

August 22, 2009