I’m sure you have caught up with the news that a honey mushroom fungus is consuming a forest in eastern Oregon. After all, it’s been doing it for over 2000 years.
Yes, genetic tests have pretty well confirmed that the 2300-acre fungus must have originated from one spore, and so is considered to be a single organism—the world’s largest, at an estimated 605 tons.
Consuming a forest, you say? Of course! Fungi, after all, are consumers (as are we), meaning simply that they and we can’t make organic compounds out of carbon dioxide and water like green plants can—so we have to consume ready-made food.
Unlike those clever lichen fungi in the last post, who partnered up with photosynthetic algae, most fungi must attack living or dead things with their digestive enzymes and absorb their victuals in liquefied form.
In the case of our honey mushroom, the food source is living Douglas Fir and other trees. And that makes this fungus a nasty parasite. It starts at the roots, grows up under the bark and eats the sapwood. And it sends ugly black “shoestrings” from tree to tree, thus spreading the destruction.
Doesn’t sound like a mushroom to me. Well, by now you realize that a fungus is always more than meets the eye. The bulk of our humongous fungus’s 600-ton mass consists of the mycelium, that mass of fibers underground and under the tree bark—eating and growing and spreading…eating and growing and spreading….eating and growing and spreading….
But once in a while, a portion of that mycelium gets happy, bunches together and grows upward, breaks the surface—and becomes a ‘shroom, the purpose of which is to produce reproductive spores in order to spread the misery. And that is usually the only part of the organism we ever see, unless we go poking.
Where does that leave us? With the saprophytes, of course. They have to eat too, you know. And that’s a good thing. Saprophytic fungi are the folks that do the bulk of the decomposing and recycling by eating dead plants, dead animals, dead everything. Without their services, dead stuff would pile up, fast. Soil would be depleted of nutrients and food cycles would grind to a halt—and so would we.
What a magnificent plan the Creator has devised to maintain stability in His sin-cursed biosphere! It is simple in principle, yet so intricate in detail and vast in scope that it has kept ecologists busy for decades trying to figure out how the biosphere stays so balanced—and how we human sinners keep trying to throw it out of balance.
You will have to admit that fungi are different from the rest of us. It took biologists a long time to admit this—they kept wanting to call them plants. But finally they had to give in, given all the weirdness—no separate cells to speak of, just long tubes (hyphae) of cytoplasm; a different substance making up their cell walls and a host of other biochemical and metabolic oddities. So the taxonomists (the classification guys) finally assigned the fungi a new kingdom: Kingdom Fungi. Is that too logical or what?
Fungi are highly skilled biochemists, able to produce complex digestive enzymes for their food-getting operations—and a variety of organic compounds that will kill you if given the chance—or at least make you wish you were dead, by damaging various internal organs. In fact, I wouldn’t chance eating any of the beautiful specimens in the above photographs. Are their sophisticated chemical laboratories designed for defense, or just a part of the Edenic curse? I plan to ask the Creator when I see Him. And to avoid meeting Him before my assigned time, it’s supermarket mushrooms only for me.
Well, it’s spring now, and things are starting to sprout, bloom, migrate and generally get happy. So maybe I’ll be able to lay off the fungi after this post. But you never can tell. Just as I was writing this, up popped an email from Amazon.com advertising this new arrival. Will I be able to resist?
Soli Deo Gloria