MUSHROOMS
Michael Ellis

“On moonlit nights the fairies come out and dance in the forest; where they dance in circles, mushrooms pop up. When the fairies rest they sit on mushrooms and these are the ones that are good to eat. Ahh, but toads also come out and they sit on mushrooms, these are poisonous ones– the toadstools.” At least this is how one folktale explains the mysterious appearance of mushrooms and toadstools.

There are over 700 species found along the Pacific Coast and they are beginning to pop up everywhere due to the October rains and the cooling, but not too cold, temperatures of fall.

There is something otherworldly and even a little magical about mushrooms. They seem to appear and disappear overnight. Even their names are fanciful– Witches Butter, Earthstars, Fairy Fingers, King Boletes, Black Elfin Saddles, but by far my favorite name (and I am not making this up) is Red-brown Butt Rot. Geez that sounds like some disease you could get in tropical New Guiane.

Mushrooms produce thousands of tiny spores, that are two different kinds (x and y to mycologists but male and female for the rest of us). The wind blows them great distances. A few manage to land in favorable places and begin to grow into tiny white thread-like roots, called hypha. These spread through soil or rotten logs feeding on dead plant or even animal matter.

When a x and an y hypha meet, they fuse and exchange genetic material, underground sex has occured. The hypha continues to grow into a mass called a mycelium. And up from the mycelium sprouts the part we call a mushroom. Picking these fruiting body is no more harmful than picking an apple is to the tree. The important part, the mycelium, remains intact, underground and ready to produce more mushrooms next year.

Mushrooms replenish the soil by converting dead organic matter into the raw materials that green plants need. Mushrooms restore life by taking from the dead; they are the ultimate recyclers.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

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Skills

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December 1, 2010