If you’re a big fan of mushrooms, like me, you might have enjoyed that video on how mushrooms can save the world six different ways that I mentioned in my last post. If that’s the case, then you’ll be just as excited as me to learn that, in addition to mushrooms potentially cleaning polluted soil and treating smallpox and a bunch of other amazing things, you can build homes with them. There’s a new kind of architecture using mushrooms called mycotecture. I recently discovered this mind-blowing concept after a notice popped up in my email from Reasons To Be Cheerful. Let me digress a bit.
RTBC is a non-profit editorial project self-described as “a tonic for tumultuous times.” Indeed it is and I’m totally a fan. Founded by none other than multi-hyphenate talent David Byrne (yup, the guy from Talking Heads), the newsletter regularly feeds in-boxes with stories that aim to “inspire us all to be curious about how the world can be better.”
Back to mycotecture. It turns out an architect named David Benjamin has developed a recipe for literally growing building materials using, among other things, mushroom roots. Making stuff from mushrooms is not new. But the first honest-to-goodness affordable housing project using mushrooms is breaking ground in Oakland, California this year. I encourage you to read the whole article about it on the RTBC website by following this link: “For More Sustainable Affordable Housing, Just Add Mushrooms.”
The wild mushrooms in the photo above are called Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor). It’s one of the most common mushrooms in North America and, I think, one of the prettiest. I found this group on a stump along the lane leading up to our cottage in Ontario. It’s edible but please do not take my photo or my word for it. There are other mushrooms that look very much like these cuties and it can be hard to distinguish the edible ones from the not-so-edible. A terrific identification guide (and hilarious read) on Turkey Tails can be found courtesy of Michael Kuo’s excellent MushroomExpert.com. This guy is down to earth, easy to understand and has a great sense of humour–not the usual attributes for a guy drilling into the minutiae of mushrooms.
By the way, if you’re into growing your own mushrooms, you can order a Turkey Tail Mushroom Grow Kit from Grow Mushrooms Canada.
But first, get yourself a copy of Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake. You will never look at another fungus again without being in complete awe. It’s a fabulous read and I highly recommend it. Subtitled “How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures”, the book takes a deep dive underground to explore what fungi are all about, including redefining the nature of individuality and intelligence.
Mushrooms vs. Slime Mold
I thought the pink growths on the rotting log shown below were mushrooms but, after a little digging online, I discovered they’re actually slime molds (which aren’t a fungus). In fact, I’m pretty sure these lovelies are Tubifera ferruginosa, also known as Raspberry Slime mold. The little tan-coloured guy at the bottom of the photo is a bonafide fungi.
I hope some day to come across a new video about how slime molds are wildly beneficial, too. But, for now, we’ll just have to appreciate them for their important role in nutrient cycling, feeding on decaying matter and breaking it down for the benefit of other organisms. They do all this without harming anything. But they can be truly weird. I love how some molds can pick up and, in all their brainless yet coordinated glory, start trucking on across your lawn.
Though Sheldrake focuses mostly on fungi in his book, Entangled Life, he does mention how new fields of biology have uncovered the “many sophisticated, problem-solving behaviours that have evolved in brainless organisms outside the animal kingdom [like slime molds]. I kid you not, there are researchers he writes about who are working with slime molds to find the most efficient routes in rail and motorway networks. Sheldrake elaborates on how one of these researchers, who would get lost on a regular basis in his local IKEA, challenged his slime molds (presumably on their/its day off) to help him out. So he built a slime-mold-proportioned maze based on the store’s floorplan. SPOILER ALERT: They/it found the shortest route to the exit.
During the dark days of February, what better way to while away a little time than by throwing a little Fungi And Slime Mold appreciation party? All you need is a book and the openness to be totally awestruck.