These sexy Ghost Plants don’t photosynthesize. There is never anything even remotely green about them. As we learned today at the Biophilium some plants have evolved into heterotrophs meaning they get their food from someone else, like we do, rather than magicing it up out of thin air and sunlight like most autotrophic plants do.
This one in particular grows in an intimate relationship with the mycelium of a Russula mushroom. The fungus isn’t fruiting today so I couldn’t see them, but I’m sure they’re down their in the soil mycorrhyzaling with the Ghost Plant and the Jack Pines. The Pine tree is huge and has green photosynthesizing needles way up in the canopy that turn sunlight into carbohydrates and brings them down into the soil. The word mycorrhyzae (fungi+root) refers to the physical connection between the plant and the mushroom who support each other by sharing sugars and minerals and water back and forth. Its a super survival strategy because some parties are much better at collecting one and not the others so they have far better chance of survival if they share their resources. 80% of plants depend completely on mycorrhyzal partnerships. It’s what people mean when they say the ‘wood wide web’. The Pinesap flower, unable to make its own carbs takes them from the fungus who takes them from the tree.
The flowers look to me like they would be pollinated by a bee, but I read that although the fall Pinesap, who can be very red all over are pollinated by bees, summer Pinesap are yellow like this and are mostly self pollinated, which doesn’t sound like a great strategy to me, but who knows. Do you who how self pollination works?
June’s full moon is the Strawberry Moon because that’s the one that wakes up the Wild Strawberries who are smaller, slyer and sweeter than Market Strawberries.
I have an inconsistent relationship with Fairy Rings, those very green, nitrogen rich patches of lawn where Mushrooms grow in circles around vortexes, places where it’s dangerously easy to slip through to other realities. I know that the superstitions like wearing your hat backwards to protect you from inter-fairy-ring-soul-transmission are just rumors started by the fairies hoping to trick us into entering the faery realm so I usually manage to keep a safe distance.
The thing is, some years I take extra care to stay on the safe side of the rings, and some years I can’t help but head right inside as if pulled by a magnetic attraction that blocks my cautious thinking. When you go through a fairy ring its hard to know what’s changed. Humans are very adaptable. We accept our situations, and often don’t notice transcendental change.
Today the Wild Strawberries were growing inside a fairy ring and I tried to photograph them but they kept disappearing. They were delicious.
There’s been lots of talk this month at the Biophilium about control, planning, and intention vs wandering, trusting and going with the flow in the wild and in the studio. It’s hinged on questions of self identity, integrity and confidence. As an exhausted adventurer recovering from Spring migration, I’m struggling to hold on to control of my decisions, like the one to stay out of fairy rings, but the flow is taking me to nice spontaneous experiences like the sweetness of special Strawberries, so I’m deciding to trust myself to make the most of what ever shenanigans I find myself in.
This is the Fairy Ring Mushroom that grows in my lawn; the one that cuddles with the Wild Strawberries. It’s been there for years and fruits for months every summer. They are good to eat because they TASTE LIKE MAPLE SYRUP!! They are relatively easy to learn to identify, partly because their stems are so robust that it’s difficult to break them with your hands.
You can find Fairy Rings growing in lawns even when they are not fruiting by noticing how the grass grows. Most plants can’t access the nitrogen that makes up most of the atmosphere, and need another organism to ‘fix’ it, so they can use it to grow. The Fungi grow in roundish patches in the lawn expanding every year. The new growth around the outside edge is where the Fungus is digesting dead plant matter under ground and releasing loads of nitrogen into the soil. The grass around the outer edge picks up this nitrogen and grows faster, bushier and more healthily than the rest of the lawn. Lawn care cult leaders call this a ‘symptom of Fairy Ring disease’, but it’s a sign of a healthy ecosystem.
Grow trees not grass.
While planning a birding route on Gmaps I found these massive Fungi growing in an island sports field. (Compare with the size of the Baseball diamond). What I like so much about this is that we can’t see the Fungi, but we can see what they are doing to the grass, and so we know exactly where, how big and what shapes they are.
The Fungi are growing in the soil around the grass roots. Each individual mycelial mass is expanding radially as it grows over the years. The outer ring of the mycelium is supplying more nitrogen to the grass and making it greener.
You can see where individual Fungi bumped into each other and fused together and became one individual. I mean. It looks to me like that’s what’s happening. If they were simply overlapping, or interlapping, weaving themselves through each other, sharing space but staying separate unique entities, wouldn’t we see the luscious green rings as ven diagrams as I do with fruiting fairy rings of different species that overlap and share territory?
I could be wrong. Maybe something different is happening where they connect. Maybe they are not making love. (Mushrooms have sex by fusing together, swapping DNA and staying connected forever) Maybe they are doing battle. Fighting for territory and resources, and where the battle is happening they are too stressed to do what ever grass enriching magic is happening along the rest of their boundaries.
On second thought, when one Fungal entity bumps into another they together would digest the nutrients in the fresh dead grass at the boundary between them and then have no new fresh food to turn to nitrogen. This would trigger fruiting, so I’d have to go back in the fall to see if mushrooms grow in a ven diagram showing distinct overlapping individuals or if they fruit only around the outside border as a new unified being.
Birding is soooo different from mushrooming. I mean, I use my ears, stand up strait, look at the sky… I never have to sneak up on a mushroom but even though I can hold one in my hand, smell it, look at it under the microscope, it can be harder to ID than a blurry photo of a far away bird I saw the back of for less than a second. It’s because there are hundreds of thousands of mushrooms. (and probably only 200 birds around here) Millions of mushrooms! And most of them have never been scientifically described so they’re not in any book.
I’ve been stalking mushrooms obsessively for 15 years (what?) and I can still find a totally new to me mushroom growing in my backyard. And not just any mushroom, a weird mushroom that I’ve always noticed in the books and imagined them growing in far off deserts and sand dunes. Today, there they were, in my back yard, in the rain, in early April before any of the other mushrooms are up.
These little muffins are Puffballs. Subterranean, aerial Puffballs. They start as a fleshy mushroom underground and as they mature all the flesh dries and turns to a spore mass. They probably have millions of spores each. Then a little hole forms on top with a lip for spore liberation. Then a stalk grows, elevating the Puffball into the sky. When I saw them it was raining and rain drops where hitting the outside of the ball, disturbing the pressure inside and ejecting puffs of golden dust into the world.
I wonder how long they’ve been here. I hope those spores make lots more.
Entangled Life By Merlin Sheldrake Reviewed by Alexis Williams, Sept 2020
Merlin Sheldrake says dreamy things like: “If I think about about mycelium for more than a minute, my mind starts to stretch.” There wasn’t time for me to present his book Entangled Life to last month’s Biophilia Book Club, which is just as well, because I wouldn’t have been able to do it without licking the cover. I love this book. It’s my new all time fave.
I just read Fungi Magazine’s bad review of this book. Their main complaint was the lack of Latin binomials. Did they ever miss the point! The distinct separation between species, as celebrated by taxonomy, is a very human construct. Sheldrake is suggesting that we are all symbiotic, composite organisms with blurred boundaries between our selves. A point he presented quite clearly. While reading this book I would see an image of a concept and for a moment I would feel like I had had the idea myself. The next page he would render the image a different way, and then again until he spelled it out plainly. Not only was he dexterous in presenting an idea, he did it with tension and style.