Fungipedia: Mushroom Stories from Lawrence Millman
If you aren't convinced that fungi are omnipresent, bizarre, and mighty, you haven't read Fungipedia. Today we are featuring some of our favorite segments from this book and are joined by the author himself, Lawrence Millman. Lawrence has traveled far and wide on quests for information on the fungal kingdom. Sit back and enjoy some wow factor fun facts on fungi.
- Keratinophilic fungi - where they live and how they affect you
- The Hair Ice Phenomenon from the fungus Exidiopsis effusa
- Naturally occurring anti-freeze in various states of fungi
- The mushroom culture in Greenland and other Arctic & Antarctic areas
- Culturing mycelia from mummies
- The Pharaoh's Curse - was it really fungi?
- Finding the rare polypore Echinodontium ballouii, previously thought to be extinct
- How a fungus helped the defeat of the South in the Civil War
- The ban of Shiitake mushroom imports
- Field mycology as a dwindling practice
- Buy Fungipedia: https://press.princeton.edu/books/hardcover/9780691194721/fungipedia
- Lawrence Millman's Website: http://lawrencemillman.com/
- Pyrithione Zinc soap for acne: https://www.amazon.com/Noble-Formula-Pyrithione-Zinc-Original/dp/B00G7TUDA0
- Pyrithione Zinc soap for dandruff: https://www.amazon.com/Pyrithione-Shampoo-Butter-Grace-Peppermint/dp/B07KX2WYNQ
- Horn Stalkball Photography: http://goweros.blogspot.com/2020/03/horn-stalkball.html
- Science of Hair Ice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAoMURsb9lM&t=204s
- Aspergillus & the Link the curse: http://www.antimicrobe.org/hisphoto/history/Aspergillus-Mummys%20curse.asp
- Echinodontium ballouii: https://www.mycobank.org/page/Name%20details%20page/330283
You're listening to the mushroom revival podcast.
What if we told you that fungi were involved in an ancient Egyptian curse?
Or if fungi create a natural anti-freeze?
Or if fungi actually helped dismantle slavery in the United States?
So today on the show, we've got a sample platter of mushroom stories selected from Lawrence Melvin's fungi nupedia. This is a great episode to share with your myco curious friends, where we visit some of the unlikely corners of fungal existence. And what is spunk a PDF? Well,
It's a miscellaneous subtitle is a brief compendium of mushroom lore. So I have science information about fungal sacks biographies of different mycologist there are about 175 entries in the book I'll mention to you I think edibility is the least interesting aspect of any mushroom.
So for first Vanga pedia piece forget about us eating fungi. What about fungi that eat us.
There are some fungi characterized as keratin Oh files or keratin loving. They're found in an order with that I believe is pronounced ownage analysis, which include fungi that secrete a special enzyme with the ability to digest keratin proteins, which is found on the outer layer of our skin. So it's no surprise that we find these species living on us.
But don't worry too much. These fungi won't take over your mind or eat you from the inside out like cordyceps. In fact, many if not all of you are probably being snapped on by these fungi right now. Common occurrences like dandruff and acne can be from a keratin of file known as malice, ccja or pittosporum. It's normal to have these on your skin but it can begin to express unwanted signs as the fungus grows into the pores not so common issues like athlete's foot, ringworm, and jock itch all come from keratin files in a genus called dryco, Fido.
Pro Tip since fungal acne and dandruff is common, we thought we'd shout out paratha known zinc, a molecule that supports healthy skin and is recommended by dermatologists for conditions related to these fungi. More than that in our show notes.
And for animal friends. There is a species commonly called horn stock ball that feeds on rotting hooves and horns. And this fungus will actually fruit tiny little white mushrooms all over it. Let me tell you right now you have to Google Image this one horn stock ball. It's pretty metal.
To segue from skin and hooves. Our next piece is about hair. There is an unusual phenomenon known as hair ice where ultra thin crystals of ice form on the outside of dead branches. The ice itself is not a fungus, but it doesn't need a living fungus for it to occur. So on early winter mornings when the temperature is just below freezing, and if the air is humid, and you're between 45 and 55 degrees latitude, you may get lucky and find hair eyes growing off of dead hardwood branches.
This is another one you have to look at pictures or videos of this stuff. It looks almost like silvery human hair, it's the same thickness and can actually grow up to 20 centimeters long when conditions are just right a magical event known as ice segregation occurs when the water inside the wood starts to freeze. But instead of forming ice, the water becomes super cool, thanks to some interaction with molecules inside of the wood. But ice does form on the outside at the opening. Think of this like the hair follicle.
And between these two states of water so you've got your frozen bits on the outside and your supercooled water on the inside. More ice will form right at that interface and continue to grow until all of the water inside of the branch is completely used up. One of the reasons this only occurs in hardwoods is due to their porous structure known as Meadow Larry rays.
The original thought was that these formations were due to gas pressure inside the branch that forest out the freezing water. That was proven wrong in 2005 when scientists showed that the fungus was the key to these fine crystalline structures. nearly a century later, a German geophysicist by the name of Alfred Wegener, who was also a leading scientist in continental drift suggested that a fungus was involved. Scientists proved this theory in the 21st century by showing that if you kill the fungus in the branch, the hairs no longer grow.
So why Is the fungus actually doing? It's still not totally clear, but it's likely due to some special protein secreted by the fungus known as re crystaline inhibitors. These are similar to the proteins found in some animals that prevent the water in their cells from freezing. So it's basically like a fungal antifreeze. And when it's combined with water, it gives it durability. That's illustrated when we acknowledge that the hair ice can stick around for hours or even days despite fluctuating temperatures, whereas any other normal fine ice crystals would melt and recrystallized into amorphous, uninteresting clumps.
hirise is found pretty up there. So this occurs at 45 to 55 degrees latitude that's northern US and Canada. But even when we go higher near the Arctic, fungi are still showing up. And Lawrence Millman, who has an affinity for the cold, unlike myself, has spent lots of time in the Arctic Region looking for fungi. He has some unique insight into the mushroom culture in Greenland.
In East Greenland, there is incredible phobia about mushrooms, as they're called Cuba SOPA. And Kubrick talk our mountain hermits who can switch their fingers and go flying through the air which they do they fly into a village grab somebody and take that person back out with him on the premises or taken back dry him even later. And because in the farther north we're going late in the season, mushrooms tend to be slimy and slime is an anti priests. So if you see a November, slime on certain mushrooms like coronaries and celery cetera, it is to protect the mushroom against freezing. And in East Greenland, it gets cold earlier than other places. And there's a lot of signs. And the mushroom is mushrooms are called Kiva top soap bar. soap is the word for soap. So it's thought that this line is what he keeps talking, use this to Bay the width. And if a kipping talk uses its obey with, you certainly don't want to eat it, nor do you want to have anything to do with it. And that explains why in East Greenland, there tends to be a phobic attitude. For mushrooms.
It's fascinating because these are areas that most people don't tend to look for mushrooms, and I'm sure there's a lot of species that are new to science. We're finding species in Antarctica that no one would think to look people tend to look you know, and forest and rain forests and things like that. But so I look in snow and ice, you know, fungi are extremophiles and they will pop up on every nook and cranny of this earth and to find out how they're doing it is fascinating. One of the
places that they're popping up in Antarctica is in all explorers huts. The mycelium or the spore is remained in the wood for and can remain in wood for hundreds of years. drift logs in the Arctic. People have culture mycelium from drift logs and mycelium is 600 years old. Actually. Some people have found mycelium and the mummies, Egyptian mummies and of culture, something that was 2000 years old. Wow. So at any rate, as there's a fellow in University of Minnesota named Bob planchette, who's done a lot of work with explorers. Now there's not a lot of wood in the Arctic, or the Antarctic. But there is brought in wood by explorers and other people and the broad Inwood scores and mycelium just waiting and they can wait much longer than we can to produce fruiting bodies. And I think I can't remember, he found how many 40 or 50 different species in the ward of Captain Scott's height in Antarctica. They haven't proved it yet, but they could fruit with climate change.
So to expand on fungi associated with ancient Egypt our third piece from fungi pedia features a mold genus Aspergillus, these fungi like to fruit in dry closed off environments like barns and sheds, and also Pharaohs tombs. The spores of these fungi can survive for a long time in the environment, and when inhaled, they can cause pulmonary issues that results in future complications.
Let's consider King Tut's curse or Curse of the pharaohs. Were legends say if you disturb a mummy, especially a Pharaohs, you be cursed with bad luck, illness or you in depth in the case of King Tut, who was said to condemn anyone who disturbed his tomb, at least 11 visitors have reportedly died from this curse, another mystery that might be tied to fungi. Perhaps these violators weren't cursed by something paranormal but rather sickened with Aspergillus spores and mycotoxins, which actually is a semi common cause of death for archaeologists opening old tombs Believe it or not,
fungi change history, and far last piece from fungi pedia the possible role of fungi and the South's defeat during the Civil War. This section was titled to train records because of fungus neo lentinus le piteous, a cousin of the Chautauqua mushroom was found feasting on wooden railroad ties despite being treated with tar. The faulty railroad ties resulted in dozens of failed attempts at sending trains to support General Robert E. Lee, a commander of the Confederate States,
so shout out to Neil and Titus for helping end slavery in the US for making the world a better place.
And another fun fact the USDA actually banned imports of chateaugay mushrooms since it was a cousin of this so called a train wreck or fungus until the early 1970s, in fear that it would erode more infrastructure,
and the mushrooms from this fungi are actually edible, just not if they've been growing off railroad ties, which will most likely have absorbed some nasty chemicals and heavy metals from the tar and surrounding areas. You're actually better off picking some chogha in a pristine birch forest and going on that train Chugga chugga choo choo.
And all seriousness Lawrence Millman has done a lot more than just right fungi pedia. He himself is a special piece of the myco verse and has had significant impact on surveying fungi in urban and remote environments. Stone a lot of education regarding ethno mycology and the consequences of studying mycology in sterile environments like
a lab. So in exploring all these different places where people normally don't look for fungi and mushrooms, every once in a while, you might stumble upon a rare specimen like in 2005, he found a rare polypore that hasn't been seen since 1909. Were you looking for it? You know, do you have a list of rare fungi that you're you're looking for? Or just stumble upon it in a rare circumstance?
No, no with respect to that. Old Port is a kind of donkey baluja II, it does not have a common name. It grows exclusively on old growth, Atlantic white cedars. So what I did, because I was very eager to see if indeed it was still extinct, was with friends, we went to Atlantic white cedar swamps, always in the winter, because if you go in the summer, the combination of muck and mosquitoes will drive you away very quickly, but in the winter, it freezes. And you can walk in on snowshoes, or crampons. So I investigated a number of look like white cedar swamps. The problem with Atlantic white cedars and this particular tree is that for the longest time, they were used in shipbuilding and house building. And that meant the it was very hard to find old growth trees, as this only grows on old growth Atlantic wide cedars. And then I had a revelation I went friend of mines simultaneously had the same revelation, let's find the farthest inland Atlantic white cedar swamp, because it would have been much harder to transport the wood to the coast, from a place 125 miles inland than right on the coast where I would say a large proportion of the swatches are. So we found one that was about 125 miles in length, I have been very reserved about indicating exactly where less people go and take the remaining species away. But anyway, we went there found some old growth trees, and indeed, they did have specimens of a kind of dantian below Ei on. Maybe we found 25 different species. We kind of thought in advance this group cap. So we brought along a bottle of whiskey to celebrate our discovery. Having having founded on a particular tree, what happened was he saw a ruined and looking fungus on one side of the tree. And he said I'd bet that's it certain I said oh, it's impossible to tell. So we went around opposite directions and met in line and he beat me Bye bye. 10 seconds saying, Look, there it is out there. And about a minute later, I was unzipping my rucksack and bringing out the bottle of scotch. So we had found something that was presumed to be extinct. Wow, I've since I've since worked in a lot of other places for leather, and including one swamp and trash and big, big ol broke trees. And I haven't found anywhere else.
Do you suspect that that's the only patch of it in the world left?
Yeah, Yes, I do. What reason why I have stayed away from universities in my pursuit of mycology is that everyone tends to be hemmed in, in Foursquare laboratories. Their field mycology is becoming similar to the dodo and the Labrador Doc, the three field mycologist left in the UK, I'm not sure how many are left here. But myself, I can only manage being indoors for a certain period of time. And then I've got to go afterwards. And among other things to look for,
yeah, it's got to be a balance. I mean, we have a lot of amazing tools. and molecular biology is extremely illuminating, and instrumental to developing some of our most productive and important products, medicines, whatever, but there is some fidelity there, if you just are steadily taking the specimen into the lab, and then you get to know it in that setting. That's not really where it lives. That's, you know, it's like trying to get to know as an animal outside of its wild habitat, and you just are going to miss out on a lot of the really essential behaviors,
or you're going to get some non essential as long as you sit in front of the cage of an animal in the zoo, and start documenting behavior. It's going to be very, it's going to be cooped up behavior rather than behavior in the wild.
And, you know, the other thing is, many mushrooms are cultured in laboratories. But the cultured mushroom has differences from its wild called. One thing it has eventually will is that there are certain chemicals of the mushroom wild uses to fight off bacteria that are no longer needed when there are no bacteria around. And a petri dish is usually a bacteria leave free environment. So you could argue that what's being cultured, is a different species from its seemingly seemingly same species. It's in the wild.
I think about this frequently actually, and especially when I follow a great Facebook group called Algarve. Asgard. And people just post beautiful photos of their agar plates. But it's interesting to think that that fungus you cultured never had this restrictive two dimensional landscape to grow on. And you know, you often see really interesting characteristics of fungi, I have probably over 20 cultures and I could identify the plate just by looking at the mycelium. But is that what it looks like in a law or whatever, whatever substrate it has in the in the natural world, like No way. And it's interesting to see some of these fungi express in really intense rise and morphs and grow in a perfectly radial pattern. I mean, that would just not happen in dog or wherever you had found your your fungus. So it is interesting how much their genetic expression has to change in order to thrive in that environment. And I just wonder how much we really lose between those.
We lose a lot and and, you know, john Muir said when you study nature, you find everything is hitched to everything else. But when you take something and remove it to a petri dish, you cut off the hitches, so to speak, and you've simply got itself alone.
Special thanks to Lawrence Millman for creating fungi pedia. For more stories of fungal lore, be sure to get a copy of fungi pedia and check out our show notes for more extensive coverage on these fungal factoids.
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and as always, much love. And may the spores be with you.