Hear fungus and most of us wrinkle our noses. The thought of moulds, especially with the monsoons making our closets and toes go humid, might seem unsavoury. But hold on! There are lots of nice things about fungi too. From the mushrooms we eat to the penicillin used in antibiotics. Yeasts are also a kind of fungi used in making bread and fermenting wines and cheese. So you might not even realise it but might be living it up with the microbe magic. In this issue, we have put together some fun ideas for you to get creative with spores, along with facts that add ‘fun’ to fungi:
Take a camera or sketchpad and head to a wooded area to ocument types, textures and colours of wild mushrooms. Note: Tempting as they may be, wild fungi, unless identified as harmless, are not advisable as a readily available snack. Some species, like the Amanita phalloides and Paxillus involutus are known to be lethal. Others, like Psilocybe or magic mushrooms, carry hallucinogenic properties, while yet others accumulate man-made polluting agents such as heavy metals and radioactive isotopes.
The largest known organism on earth is a mushroom! This ‘humongous fungus’ is 3.5 miles wide and lives mostly underground in Oregon, USA. It is thought to be over 2,4000 years old!
Unleash your creativity with the Artists’s Conk or Ganoderma applanatum. This mushroom retains etchings carved on to its surface even after it dries up. The carved mushrooms make for great organic displays for your living room. You can even make a fungal spore print. Take open, ripe, shop-bought mushrooms, remove the stems and place them gills down on a piece of art card paper. Cover with an empty, upturned glassbowl – this stops sudden draughts from blowing the spores away. Overnight, the spores (which are dark in colour) will create a pattern on the card.
A bio-degradable packaging material made of mushroom roots and agricultural waste has recently been developed by New-York based company, Ecovative Design. The organic cartons are made by adding mycelium (mushroom roots that comprise a fungal network of threadlike cells) to pasteurised bits of plant stalks or seed husks. Then placing it into clear plastic moulds and then heat-drying the molded material.
Fungi love moist and shady places and help create a really rich environment, particularly in compost heaps. Choose a hidden green area that is not too shady – sunlight should prevent it from going slimy. Decide where to store your compost – a home-made box, a compost bin or just a ‘heap’. Make sure the ground is fairly level so the heap is stable as it gets bigger. Next, start piling in your garden waste and kitchen vegetable scraps. It is better not to compost meat or fish to avoid unwanted visitors like rats. Over time, your ‘zoo’ will help feed all kinds of creatures, such as spiders, snails and beetles.
Fungi actually grow everywhere, and even scooping up a teaspoon of earth is likely to yield 120,000 of the spore-manufacturing wonders. As they do not have chlorophyll (which plants use to make food with the light of the sun), they feed on nutrients – water, starches and sugar – from hosts like plants, animals, humans. Even dead and decaying organic matter, anywhere, in fact, where it is warm and damp! Also, along with bacteria, they are one of the best decomposers of organic material.