Fungi recycle plants after they die on the forest floor and transform them into rich soil. If it were not for mushrooms and fungi, the earth would be buried in several feet of debris and life on the planet would soon disappear. Some of the oldest living mushroom colonies are fairy rings growing around the famous Stonehenge ruins in England. The rings are so large that they can be seen from airplanes. The Honey Mushroom (Armillaria Ostoyae) is the world’s largest know organism. It covers 2,384 acres of soil in Oregon’s Blue Mountains. Put it another way, this humongous would encompass 1,665 football fields or nearly four square miles (10 square kilometers) of ground. It is estimated to be 2,400 years old but could be as ancient as 8,650 years. Mushrooms have their own immune systems. Some mushrooms can destroy cancer cells, and others facilitate nerve regeneration. Fungi are incredibly resilient, even surviving radioactivity. They can actually harness radiation in order to thrive, as was found by a robot that was sent to map the inside of the entombed Chernobyl nuclear reactor in 1999. The robot found a hardy fungus chowing down on 200 tons of melted radioactive fuel. Under the right conditions, some mushroom spores can sit dormant for decades or even a century, and still grow.
Mushrooms are comprised of 85 – 95% water. The world of mushrooms and fungi hold many secrets. The Psathyrella Aquatica (discovered in 2005) is a mushroom that lives completely under water. It has gills and has been observed fruiting on water logged wood on the bottom of clear, cold, flowing waters of the upper Rogue River in Oregon, USA. Penicillin (the antibiotic) was derived from the fungal species, Penicillium. Mushrooms are useful not only as food and medicine; some are also being used in bioremediation (a waste management technique), to absorb and digest dangerous substances like oil, pesticides and industrial waste, in places where they threaten the environment. In the Amazon Rainforest, mushrooms release spores high into the air, creating the surface water to condense, thus triggering rain. A feedback loop is created as the rain promoted more fungal growth so they help to keep the Amazon wet and ‘rainforesty’ – a pretty neat trick. The Mycena family of fungus contains more than 70 species of mushrooms that in glow in the dark. These mushrooms produce light by a chemical reaction called bioluminescence. In the past, travellers illuminated their way through the woods using these glowing pieces of fungus-colonized wood.
Fungi are as uniquely different to plants as plants are from animals. Also, they are more closely related in DNA to humans than they are to plants. You can dye clothes beautiful colours by boiling wild mushrooms and dipping the cloth into the resulting broth. In various civilizations around the world including Russia, China, Greece, Mexico and Latin America, mushroom rituals were practiced. Many believed that mushrooms had properties that could produce super human strength; help in finding lost objects and lead the soul to the realm of the Gods. The sudden, rapid eruptions of circles of mushrooms from the soil led people to believe that terrible forces were at work i.e. lightning strikes, meteorites and shooting stars. A truffle is the fruit of fungus that grows in tree roots, and many people prize it for its flavor. Truffles are very precious and in 2010, the highest bid during a sale, held simultaneously in London, Rome and Macau, was $330,000 for two pieces of the rare tuber weighing a total of 1.3 kilograms (2.78 pounds). It came in Macau of behalf of Stanley Ho, chairman of SJM Holdings, Asia’s largest casino operator.