Fungi and Fungal-Like Organisms in nature but they are easy to miss. They are inside you, around you. They sustain you, all that you depend on. As you read these words, fungi are changing the way that life happens, as they have done for more than a billion years. They are eating rock, making soil, digesting pollutants, nourishing and killing plants, surviving in space, inducing visions, producing food, making medicines, manipulating animal behavior, and influencing the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere.
Fungi and Fungal-Like Organisms
Little story like from a fairytale: Fungi provide a key to understanding the planet on which we live, and the ways that we think, feel, and behave. Yet they live their lives largely hidden from view, over ninety percent of their species remain undocumented. The more we learn about fungi, the less makes sense without them.
Ferns and orchids sprouted from its trunk, which vanished into a tangle of lianas in the canopy. High above me, a toucan flapped off its perch with a croak, and a troupe of howler monkeys worked themselves into a slow roar. The rain had only just stopped, the leaves above me shed heavy drops of water in sudden showers. A low mist hung over the ground.
The tree’s roots wound outward from the base of its trunk, soon vanishing into the thick drifts of fallen leaves that covered the floor of the jungle. I used a stick to tap the ground for snakes. A tarantula scuttled off, I knelt, feeling my way down the tree’s trunk, along one of its roots into a mass of spongy debris where the finer roots matted into a thick red and brown tangle. A rich smell drifted upward. Termites clambered through the labyrinth, and a millipede coiled up, playing dead.
My root vanished into the ground, and with a trowel I cleared the area around the spot. I used my hands a spoon to loosen the top layer of earth and dug as gently as I could, slowly uncovering it as it ranged out from the tree and twisted along just below the surface of the soil. After an hour, I had traveled about a meter. My root was now thinner than string, had started to proliferate wildly.
It was hard to keep track of as it knotted with its neighbors, so I lay down on my stomach and lowered my face into the shallow trench I had made. Some roots smell sharp, nutty, others woody, bitter, but the roots of my tree had a spicy resinous kick when I scratched them with a fingernail. For several hours I inched along the ground, scratching and sniffing every few centimeters to make sure I hadn’t lost the thread.
As the day went on, more filaments sprang out from the root I’d uncovered and I chose a few of them to follow all the way to the tips, where they burrowed into fragments of rotting leaf or twig. I dipped the ends in a vial of water to wash off the mud, looked at them through a loupe. The rootlets branched like a small tree, their surface was covered with a filmy layer that appeared fresh, sticky. It was these delicate structures I wanted to examine. From these roots a fungal network laced out into the soil, around the roots of nearby trees.
Fungi and small tree network
Without this fungal web my tree would not exist. Without similar fungal webs no plant would exist anywhere. All life on land, including my own, depended on these networks. I tugged lightly on my root and felt the ground move.
Fungi make up one of life’s kingdoms as broad and busy a category as “animals” or “plants.” Microscopic yeasts are fungi, as are the sprawling networks of honey fungi, or Armillaria, which are among the largest organisms in the world. The current record holder, in Oregon, weighs hundreds of tons, spills across ten square kilometers, is somewhere between two thousand and eight thousand years old. There are probably many larger, older specimens that remain undiscovered.
Little Fungi and Fungal-Like Organisms story. Thank you for reading.