The Sex Life of Mushrooms & DIY Mushroom Cultivation with Willoughby A – Mushroom Revival

The Sex Life of Mushrooms & DIY Mushroom Cultivation with Willoughby Arevalo

How does a spore become a fertile fungus? Let alone a mushroom? On today's episode, we are joined by the charismatic Willoughby Arevalo who does a spectacular job at peering into the promiscuous world of fungal sex. This stuff isn't just interesting, it's critical knowledge for any serious mycological endeavors.

Additionally, we highlight Willoughby's latest book "DIY Mushroom Cultivation", a new favorite here at Mushroom Revival for easy, yet effective ways to grow mushrooms just about anywhere.

Willoughby Arevalo is passionate about the ecology of fungi, the ways they shape our world and the ways we shape theirs. His lifelong friendship with fleshy fungi has led him down a mycelial pathway – from a start in field identification and mushroom hunting, branching into cuisine, DIY cultivation, farming, education, writing and eco-arts. In his thirty years of self-motivated inquiry and intimate lived experience with fungi, he has spent the last decade prioritizing sharing mycology with people in communities across North America This has manifested in numerous presentations, art projects, teaching tours, collaborations, gatherings, and his new book, DIY Mushroom Cultivation, out now from New Society Publishers. Between the mycology and art work, and caring for his kid, Uma, he works part time on an organic vegetable farm. Originally from Arcata, California (Traditional Wiyot and Yurok Territory), he lives as a guest on Unceded Coast Salish Territory in Vancouver, Canada.


Show notes:

DIY Mushroom Cultivation Book:

Sex Life of Mushrooms Performance:


Future Ecologies Interview with Willoughby:


Transcribed by ** Subject to error
Alex 0:20
Welcome welcome mesh fam to another episode of mushroom revival podcast. This is a podcast dedicated to bridging the gap between you our wonderful dedicated listeners and the fantastic funky world of fungi. Get excited for this next episode. So we have a really exciting guest today and his name is will it be?

Lera 0:44
Will it be our Veilleux is passionate about the ecology of fungi, the ways they shape our world and the ways we shape there's his lifelong friendship with friendship with fleshy fungi has led him down a mycelium pathway from a start and field identification and mushroom hunting, branching into cuisine, DIY cultivation, farming, education, writing and ego arts. In his 30 years of self motivated inquiry and intimate lived experience with fungi, he has spent the last decade prioritizing sharing mycology with people in communities across North America. This has manifested in numerous presentations, art projects, teaching tours, collaborations gatherings, and his new book, DIY mushroom cultivation. out now from new society publishers between the mycology and artwork and caring for his kid Ouma. He works part time on an organic vegetable farm, originally from Arcadia, California, traditional Wyatt and Europe territory. He lives as a guest on an unseeded coast, Salish territory and Vancouver, Canada. Okay, will it be Could you tell us how you first got into the world of fungi,

Willoughby 2:01
I first got into mushrooms when I was really little, just by noticing them seeing them. I grew up in the the coast Redwood ecosystem in Northern California. And the house where I grew up was right next to the community forest in our Qaeda, which is many, many hundreds of acres of just that community owned forest. And so I would spend a lot of time out there. And of course, the mushrooms were amazing. And the mushroom season there is really long, starts sometime around late summer, mid summer, even and continues through the winter into the spring. And there's just a time kind of in in the early summer when there's not really fresh mushrooms, or not many at least. So I was about four years old and just got fascinated by their beauty and I always loved cooking and eating as well. being raised vegetarian, I was eating a lot of button mushrooms. And I always loved those. And then when I learned that there were mushrooms in the forest that I could eat. That was really exciting. And so I got more interested my parents weren't into mushrooms per se. And they didn't know anything about wild mushrooms but they supported me in my quest for knowledge and supported me in learning. So I joined the humble Bay mycological society when I was nine I didn't stick with it for very long because it's not really made for nine year olds.

Unknown Speaker 3:51
The hour was

Willoughby 3:53
on you know the genus CT Nereus taxonomy now you I find it quite interesting now. But when I was nine, it was just way over my head and not that engaging. But I did get a lot out of my year to with the group. And the main thing was just even even more thirst for knowledge and passion for the fungi.

Unknown Speaker 4:23

Willoughby 4:26
it was kind of a solo pursuit until I was in college. And then I took some classes with Dr. Terry Henkel at Humboldt State University. biology that fleshy fungi forest pathology, biology of the ascomycetes in the city on my seats, and that's when my my pretty good mushroom hunting skills and field ID skills went really up and my depth of understanding of the fungi I really increased to a point of being really interested in their ecology and their ways of life and who they were and what they were doing beyond just what is it, can I eat it, which is kind of what my approach had been for a long time. And then I realized that through that learning process, that my relationship with them hadn't been very reciprocal, and that I wanted to give back somehow. So I decided that I would try to do that. And the best ways I could think of to do that were to learn to grow them, and help promote their life in that way. And also to share what I knew with other humans.

Lera 5:53
I love that story and how you join the myco illogical society at nine years old. I think that might be a record.

Alex 6:00
I want to see a picture of nine year old Willoughby Yeah, me holding a mushroom

Willoughby 6:06
is a picture of 14 year old me with a bunch of sand trails. Nice. Got a big Afro that

Alex 6:14
night? Oh, that's so fun. And and talk about your new book, because you just released a new book. And you know, I was just flipping through it. It's called DIY mushroom cultivation. When did you release it? What's it about? Can you so tell our listeners about it?

Willoughby 6:30
Thanks. Yeah, it came out from new society publishers back in July this year, so it's quite fresh still. And I wrote it over the last couple years, and it's part of this homegrown city life series that they are doing, which has a lot of urban homesteaders skills, books, everything from vermicomposting to. Working with elderberries, to non dairy cheese making, and lots more in that series, all geared towards beginners, some would say my book is more for advanced beginners. But it's all really trying to be really accessible, especially for people who don't own land, who may rent a small living space, perhaps in an urban area, but not necessarily may have a small to non existent land base where they can work outdoors. And not necessarily assuming that people have spare rooms in their houses to dedicate to having a lab or a fruiting space. And so it's really geared toward somebody like me, who lives with two other people in a one bedroom apartment. And has a small backyard or something like that, that I share with my neighbors. So that's my personal situation reflected through through the book, just trying to let people know that you don't have to own a house and a barn and a forest to be able to grow mushrooms at your at your home. But you can do it tucked into the niches that already exist within your living space.

Lera 8:28
Yeah, I remember from your talk you you were saying living room, bedroom, dining room, bathroom, mushroom, yeah. And the in your book, all these like really unlikely spaces that you could use as fruiting. You're like the cabinet above your fridge or in your laundry room. It's pretty awesome. And with that, yeah, go on.

Willoughby 8:53
Yeah, it's all about finding the little micro climates within our living spaces. So like above the fridge above the stove for example, that cabinet is a warm, dark spot, getting heat from the stove whenever you cook so that's a great place for incubating growing mycelium. I use my water heater closet for that purpose. Can fruit in the shower, if you have a mudroom or, or laundry room kind of washroom place it might be a little more humid that that those that in the bathroom could also be good fruiting spaces. Personally, I do most of my fruiting almost all of my fruiting outdoors with very little environmental influence besides the weather. But I do live in the Pacific Northwest where the weather is conducive to mushroom fruiting fairly often. And I don't really force it a lot. I let them fruit when they want to fruit.

Lera 9:57
So what are some liquids super low tech methods that you know, have heard of people doing lab work inside of a plastic bag. And just wondering if you have any other like, really funny unlikely methods you can share?

Willoughby 10:12
Oh, yeah, there's tons of stuff. You know, I have my own personal experience. But I did a lot of research when I was writing the book also about what other people do ways to do little hacks or cut corners or find little tricks within the urban, the home ecosystem for for doing various parts of the mushroom cultivation process. So a few that I could think of with like substrate preparation. We have, most people have bathtubs, or at least showers in their houses and a hot water heater. This is something that I've never done personally. But you could turn up your hot water heater to full blast and use that hot water. It's already coming out hot enough to pasteurize straw, for example, if you crank it up to full blast. Now, it's also dangerous. If you don't flush out that hot water, before the next person takes a bath or a shower or washes the dishes. You could have some skin scalding going on, especially dangerous if you have kids in the house. So if you're going to do that, do that with extreme caution. Another another method that I haven't heard tons of people doing but sounds interesting to me if you've got roommates or partner or landlord that's amenable to this. What about preparing your substrates in the washing machine, put it in a fine mesh bag and put it on the sanitizer hot water cycle and wash it? Why not?

Lera 12:01
Wow, well, have you tried this before?

Willoughby 12:03
I have not my my partner and my landlord would not like that at all. So you know, I say that one with a grain of salt. Like maybe you have room in your garage for a spare old washing machine that could do just that be dedicated for that. I don't know. Of course, anaerobic fermentation for substrate PrEP is another one that's really great low tech method. It's basically like making sauerkraut without the salt using straw or other organic matter instead of the cabbage. And you use submerge it in water and keep it fully submerged for days to weeks until it gets really stinky from anaerobic bacterial growth, drain it and spawn it and the anaerobic bacteria and the anaerobic condition under the water, kill and consume the aerobic mold fungi, other mushroom species and bacteria aerobic bacteria that will be living on the straw. And, and then when you drain it there, the anaerobic bacteria are exposed to oxygen and they die. So it leaves you with a substrate that has very little alive in it. And that's brilliant. Yeah, it's really simple and it doesn't require an energy input just requires a little bit of space where you can make a stink because it does stink.

Lera 13:39
Love that.

Alex 13:40
Yeah, I had I had some experiences. One in in Mexico, in red outside of wahaca and just inoculating substrate outside right next to a farm where it just smelled like manure. And it just like blew my mind. I was like wow, we're inoculating should talk to you right now we're inoculating PRP no are inoculating a lot of things you know I've an activated oil stir outside and that seem you know, oysters pretty aggressive should talk to you I was like whoa, this is you know, I can smell like shit in the air like this is not sterile whatsoever on just like a dirty table and you know, just stuffing in there and I was like holy shit this is you know, you can do this and I've seen another farm I visited in California and they were growing button mushrooms and sure talkie and they're doing the same thing. He had a pet pig sitting at his feet below, while he was inoculating and was like what? sitting like the, you know, just the icon Have dirtiness sitting right below your feet, and you're just open air just inoculating the ship, this ship hockey and button mushrooms are just like, wow, this is, you know, I think many other countries who have been growing mushrooms for so long don't have a lot of money, just have these low tech skills that here in the US that, you know, a lot of people have this fear of contamination, which is so true. But, you know, working with the microbes that you're talking about with anaerobic fermentation, like sometimes, the more sterile we have it, the more contamination we'll get. And their true Dr. Like that. They're just like, yeah, we have to work with the community, instead of using and this goes into, like, you know, using chemical antibiotics, it's like, sometimes that leaves your system worse than before, because you're nuking everything. So it's just kind of like the paradigm shift of going away from the super sterile million dollar lab with tons of heppa filters and pull tie back soon suits and, and just super sterilizing everything to just, you know, outside with a pig below your feet and growing. And using your bathtub or using a washing machine, you know, it's like, you don't need to be a PhD. person with a with a million dollar lab to grow mushrooms.

Willoughby 16:37
No, I like to think of those really fancy expensive labs as as practicing what I call the really the theater, kind of like security theater in the airport, right, you're going through all these motions, but it's a lot of them are really unnecessary. And a lot of it is just to make yourself feel more comfortable, I think or make your boss feel comfortable if you're working in some kind of facility like that. And I think with that kind of perceived dichotomy between the sterile cultivation methods and the low tech, more dirty cultivation methods, I like to think of a plant analogy and agriculture analogy, where when we create a really rich and treated substrate like a neutral FIDE sawdust block, for example, that has extra nitrogen in the form of Bran or whatever in it to help increase your yields, that has to be sterilized and inoculated in really clean high technique situations. And when we are transplanting or inoculating something that is more established and used to the microbial environment into a less rich, less prepared substrate, we can we can see good results either way. And I like to think of it as if we are planting a garden outside in the soil with plants and we make a seed bed in the ground, we we prepare the soil really well. You know, maybe a lot of working the soil, adding a whole lot of compost and other amendments. And then we direct seed it with, you know, some little delicate seeds that may take a long time to germinate. like carrots, for example. Well, if we want our carrots to have any success, we have to also read a lot because there's going to be waves of weeds that come up because of seeds that have accumulated in the soil and the processes that we do to our substrates like sterilization or pasteurization, or fermentation, etc. I like to think of these as kind of like weeding. And this that and our analogy of preparing the soil. And you know, if we take a plant that's already established and we transplant it into soil that has just been loosened up with a fork, rather than being turned and perhaps top dressed or side dressed with some, some compost instead of having that worked in, we may end up having to weed less than if we To, to direct seed with small delicate seeds that take a long time to germinate.

Alex 20:10
Yeah, I like that analogy of, of weaving in something that people know. Which is super important, especially with fungi that a lot of people are, it's a totally foreign subject. You know, they think of magic mushrooms, they think of button mushrooms, they think of mold and, you know, gross decaying things. So, to put it in the analogy of plants, I mean, it's weird because we're close, closer related to fungi than we are plants. But people know plants, people love plants. Plants are great. We see them everywhere. Trees are awesome. house plants are amazing, like

Lera 20:53
people have experience with growing plants.

Alex 20:55
Yeah, exactly. So I think what you're doing and laying out is is important to help people bridge the gap on how to grow mushrooms. And and your whole book is just so awesome. It's so amazing. Yeah, it's like, yeah, it's like use your, you know, the little cupboard above your stove. Like Of course, yeah. And it doesn't you don't need all this, this high tech things and you don't need to spend a lot of money. And I just had to have a question because whenever, you know, I teach about cultivating mushrooms, I always just tell people, you know, bottom line, if you are a complete beginner, and all you want to do is grow mushrooms, and you don't really have that much money. I always tell people find a mushroom farm by you and get their second blocks. And these are these are, you know, the the blocks that they fruit mushrooms off of and a lot of commercial farms will only fruit them once or they'll only have mushrooms come off of them once the harvest then and then this block filled with nutrients and the mycelium of the roots of the mushrooms will just toss and compost. But it'll keep fruiting or flushing mushrooms out like up to five times depending on what it is. And or the technique that you're talking about just leaving the mushrooms outside and letting them fruit on their own. You can do these, you can do the same thing with these blocks and just put it under a tree or you know an evergreen shade. And a lot of times these mushroom farms will give it to you for free. You get a lot of them. You can come with a pickup truck, or even rent a u haul. Like we've rented a u haul. And we've gotten so many shitai blocks and oysters. Yep, and if you already have a garden, you know just weave them in and you don't have to do lab techniques. It's like cloning a mushroom and doing spore prints and and preparing substrate like if all you want to do is see mushrooms grow for free. Yeah, but you know, I I totally understand that. There's, at this point we don't have mushroom farms everywhere. So it might not be accessible to everyone. But I was just curious. Do you have any tips for what do you usually tell people when you have someone say I want to get into mushrooms? I want to start growing them. I have no idea where to start? I don't know anything about them. Do you point them to an oyster mushroom or probably wine cap? Or what do you say to like that?

Willoughby 23:48
Yeah, I it depends if people want to grow in containers or outside in the ground. If they want to grow in containers, I would definitely point a beginner towards an oyster first. And when I teach mushroom cultivation courses, that's usually the species I work with the most is a regular oyster mushroom, or something like that. Usually a local strain if I can, and definitely for beds outside stro Farias the easiest and most willing to work with variability and it's so adaptable and so quick and vigorous. So those are definitely to go to mushrooms. Absolutely. You know a lot of people come to me with things like I really want to grow morels and I've never done mushroom cultivation before. I'm like, Well, good luck. They're notoriously difficult to Go. Some people have had successes by various methods. But I would never suggest starting with that. Or, you know, similarly some people want to grow truffles or other far out things. And I would just suggest starting with something really easy and building up in in terms of your scale and your level of difficulty as you go and as you learn and as you get set up with the equipment, and tools and supplies that you need. I when I started cultivating, I was first cultivating as a worker at a commercial mushroom farm or a mushroom farm called mycology mushrooms in Arcadia, California. And we're producing at times up to a different dozen different species, mostly on nutrify and sawdust. But we did our oysters on pasteurized straw. And when I moved up to Vancouver where I live now, I didn't bring almost anything with me related to mushroom cultivation, except a bit of knowledge and experience really. And I had to start from scratch. I had to get and make new cultures I had to get all the equipment I needed. And built it up little by little I didn't get everything all at once. It didn't go to the big box store a single time. Well actually, that's not true. I go to get jars, but that's about it sometimes. And other than that, it just managed to scrap things together a lot of salvage and, and dumpster diving and going here and there a lot of piecing things together, I lucked out to score a really nice, really big antique pressure canner at a flea market for about a 10th of what it's worth. And it's paid itself off a very, very long time ago in terms of the the use, I've gotten out of it. But I personally don't like to go buy new stuff, especially not new plastic. I'd rather wash old stuff that I find in an alleyway and use that, for example.

Lera 27:34
That's great. Thanks for sharing all of your experiences and allowing us to just skip ahead and use all of your low tech methods. Sure. So you also do some art with fungi. And I saw some photos in your book. And I was wondering if you could talk more about that.

Willoughby 27:53
Yeah, so the last few years, my partner Isabel Kerouac and I have been researching the intersections between art and mycology and the body. She's an interdisciplinary choreographer. And I also have a background in Visual Arts and performing arts. And we've been experimenting with a number a different things, a lot of experiential arts, a lot of stuff based in the senses, and the experience of the body in relation with fungi. And also some I've been doing some visual arts as well. So we got to go to a residency at this amazing art and Ecology Center in the state of Michoacan, in Mexico, called guapo, macaque turtle, art and Ecology Center. And we spent 25 days there engaging with the fungi that are there, cultivating some fungi and doing it all with an artistic approach was harvesting and working with mushroom pigments and other natural pigments and then making drawings with those work was I cultivated a mycelial mat is about the size and shape of a yoga mat. What Yeah, so I basically made a wooden frame and stretched thin linen Canvas over either side and filled it with grain spawn that I bought in Mexico City and some water hyacinth and corn husk that I had harvested there and pasteurized and covered it all in trash bags, taped it up with micropore tape for some, some breathing and then grew it for about a week. And then Isabel created a performance based on Some of her somatic experiences with various fungi in the landscape that were then she had an audience of one person at a time. And she did the performance repeatedly. And she had them blindfolded and lying down on this living moist, smelly mat of oyster mushroom mycelium. And their skin is on it. I mean, they were wearing their clothes, but their, you know, their arms or hands or feet are touching it, their head. And, and then in this blindfolded state, she would give a variety of sensory inputs that related to her experience meditating through the senses with the mushrooms.

Lera 30:55
That's so crazy. Do you write about any of that in your book by chance

Willoughby 31:00
that I didn't write about that in the book, but one of the images is in the book that led to that performance and was part of the performance. And that was a drawing that I made of a split go mushroom in the palm of a hand, with the sun and the moon in the sky. And the sky fading shifting from from day to cut into night colors. And that was drawn almost all with mushroom pigments and a little bit of other natural pigments and indigo, and a little bit of white acrylic ink and yellow watercolor. That's that that image is in the book. And that was part of that performance. And but I have I've done some other work that recently that is more sculptural, and that there's an image a couple images in the book. So I've been collaborating over the last year and a half with Carmen Rosina, who is an environmental artist and community organizer here in Vancouver. And she's also the artistic director of still moon arts society, which is a nonprofit arts organization that specifically works in the community to educate about and improve the health of the still Creek watershed one of the last watersheds in the whole city that has any above ground Creek left. And so basically art as stewardship for this watershed in the community. And so we created a series of mushroom sculptures. Recently, we're harvesting plant materials, largely invasive species, but also some native species as well but mostly invasive species of plant like English Ivy, and European Hazel, which I would consider not invasive, though it's not native, and some others and creating sculptures with by inoculating and sculpting with these plant materials, and we used a native strain of the oyster mushroom from that exact watershed from that place for the first and then for the last two, we ended up using another oyster strain just because we needed the vigor that it was offering. But the last two were woven basket style. And the first one was a larger than life size human figure seated woven with the branches and the vines in pieces and then assembled on the inside and filled with all their chips and straw, which had been pasteurized and some oyster mushroom spawn and then coated with beeswax. His face is made with a mycelium paper machete that I made from egg cartons blended up with liquid culture and a little guar gum. Wow, it was laid over clay mold that clay positive mold that Carmen had made inspired by the face of this 105 year old squatter who used to live in the ravine, and Bantam roosters and basically urban homesteader back in the day. Legendary character from the neighborhood. And then we also did an eight foot long salmon woven from Willow and Ivy and dogwood and some other local sticks and vines that we tasked her And filled with with similar substrate and spawn that when we did not cope with the beeswax and we've seen a really gorgeous large fruiting of oyster mushrooms out of that one, we're still waiting on the human the fruit. But the salmon is there to to recognize and appreciate and encourage the salmon who have recently returned to that part of the watershed. They haven't made it quite as far up the watershed as the sculpture is. They haven't made it all the way into the ravine. But the salmon had been absent for 80 years from from still Creek. And about five or six years ago, they they came back for the first time. And they've been coming back almost every year since in very small numbers, but they're back and that's meaningful.

Lera 35:56
So is there anywhere people can see the art that you're working on.

Willoughby 36:02
So those pieces are all documented really well on the still moon arts society Instagram account. I think it's at still moon arts and through the studio that we're working out of which is called the older eco artshub alder like the tree. alder eco arts is the handle for that one. And so if you look those up, you'll see a lot of documentation there. And yeah, a lot of stuff in the process, as well as the finished works. And they're designed there just to to be there outdoors in the park, and slowly rot and turn back in the soil. And in the meantime, provide food and biodiversity niches for the ecosystem, when we were building the salmon, installing it in the place, there was a queen Bumblebee, who was very, very curious about it, and she kept swim, flying inside of it and landing on it. And flying all around me as I was weaving the last little bits. She was really cool. I'm wondering if she ended up making a nest in there and not? I hope she did. I don't know that.

Lera 37:17
So yeah.

Alex 37:19
Wow. And it's amazing how you weave mushrooms into this performance art. And you, you know, with the yoga mat, and you're kind of touching upon it with sterilization and and how that in and of itself is a performance, so to speak. And, and yeah, and how I met you in person was at a particular performance that I think you're pretty famous for. It was the sex life of fungi. And it's an amazing performance just like so funny, so deep in bizarre. It just, it's a journey. It's it's honestly one of the best performances I've ever seen in my life, and just it just just bewildered me. And that's on YouTube, people can find that. But I'm just curious, how did you get into the sex life of mushrooms?

Willoughby 38:24
Well, I've always been interested in mushrooms since I was little. And I've also been interested in sex. And when I took the ascomycetes in the city of my seats class, we got into the biology of their of these organisms. And it's so diverse, especially when you consider both phyla, the ASCO my seats and the city on my seats. There's just an incredibly wide range of approaches to reproduction, and particularly sexual reproduction. There's also asexual reproduction in many of these organisms. And I when I was at university, I was also taking classes about sex and gender and sexuality. I was taking a lot of classes from the Women's Studies Department. And I was really fascinated with the spectrum of the social construction of gender and even the spectrum of biological sex in our own species, and then simultaneously I'm learning about how in in mushroom forming fungi there are often multiple sites on the genome where there are different factors that determine biological sex, and that there are often in most species of mushrooms more than two sexes are meeting types and some With many, many, many, and that that increases the chances of finding compatible mates, and all these things about pheromones and the communication between fungi. And I was, I was just perplexed and so fascinated. And the mushrooms themselves, they are only existing, as far as we can tell from, from a biological perspective, they only exist for sexual reproduction. They are these elaborate, beautiful, fleshy structures that come from a relatively chaotic, disorganized, white noise of mycelium into this highly orchestrated symphony of form and function that's usually quite beautiful and recognizable. You know, I like to consider mushrooms to be temples of sex, because these are just these beautiful buildings made for the housing of the reproductive cells, the Cydia, the asset, and the release and dispersal of them. And it's, it's a combination of, of, you know, mathematical architecture and, and 3d geometry, for the purpose of creating and dispersing these spores. It's so highly engineered from a biological standpoint. But they're also so beautiful.

Lera 41:47
Yeah, it's really cool to consider the morphology within that system of how they're getting this work done and how they're getting their spores out there. And that's a whole nother podcast I want to have is just like spore morphology and all of the different creative ways that fungi has been able to express themselves. Yeah, and on that note, can you kind of talk about how these spores find each other.

Willoughby 42:18
So most spores from mushrooms are haploid, which means that they contain a half set of genetic information. Just like a sperm cell or an egg cell, they are not able to grow to full maturity on their own, they need to mate to be able to do sell. But unlike our sperm and egg, they are able to grow and become mycelium, without having mated. So if you could imagine a sperm or an egg growing and dividing and becoming a multicellular living organism, rather than just a cell and then finding a mate, outside of the bodies of the animals. Now that would be far out. That's what it is with fungi is these gametes, these reproductive cells are given off to the elements, usually, often for most species through wind. And then they're really at the mercy of the breeze and they fall where they fall. Eventually, sooner or later, they will land somewhere if they're not eaten or zapped by solar radiation or overly desiccated. In the meantime, if they're lucky enough to find a place to live that has, you know, nice conditions, it's nice and warm, but not too hot, nice and moist, but not too wet. with air to breathe food to eat, then the germination can happen with or without the presence of a compatible mate. But then the search is on for the compatible Nate once the growth has begun. So fungi are made up of these threadlike cells called hyphae, which collectively in mass are called mycelium. And so the hyphae how are thin and branched, long skinny thread like cells that are covered with sensory receptor protein molecules, and many of them are there's different types of sensory receptor molecules, some of which sense light, not exactly like our eyes do but the proteins are very similar in form and structure to those in our eyes that help us see and some that Can, we could say with air quotes taste or smell that is similar to those sensory receptors in our taste buds and in our olfactory nerves. And so they're able to sense their surroundings in these ways, among others, and then they're also giving off pheromones and the pheromones act in a way that is active and they go and initiate interaction with another fungus and they can travel through the air even through very tiny air spaces within a substrate and create kind of a smell, if you will, a pheromone smell a chemical signal from one fungus to another that says, This is who I am, do you like me Do you want me and it will go to another fungus of the same species. And if the pheromone fits into the pheromone receptor, then that indicates made and compatibility among other factors. And, and each fungus has both the the pheromones released and also pheromone receptors. So this is all a reciprocal relationship. That's a given take both ways. And with each mating type. And so if if the pheromones fit into the receptors, those fungi will start growing towards each other, across distances, and I can't say how big of a distance, how far those pheromones can reach and be received, and how much space they may be able to grow across to reach each other. But just that they can grow across the space is fascinating.

And then when they meet each other, if they are indeed compatible, they will fuse together. So it is kind of similar in a certain way to how we find our mates. Although, in our species, pheromone reception has fallen back in the priority list of sexual selection for our species. Some of our, our ancestors and animals that were related to, that played a much bigger role. And the pheromone receptors in our sensory system has, has shrunken and become a lot less pronounced than it is in our ancestors. But still, there's some commonality there between how we assess and attract mates and fungi as well.

Alex 48:04
Yeah, that's super interesting. I was actually just reading a book about entomopathogenic fungi and the kind of the Hallmark quarter steps that will feel quarter steps, you know, unilateralis, which people have seen on like, Planet Earth, taking over an ant, and just popping a mushroom out of its head. It was going through the lifecycle of that fungus and it something that I didn't know I had never heard anyone talk about was this secondary spore mechanism. So if a once the mushroom, fruits out of the head of the ants, and you know, they're dispersed into the environment, they start to try to find their mate. Sometimes, some of the spores will not find a mate. Some of the hyphae And apparently, this OFHEO quadriceps unilateral is has a mechanism to create a secondary spore structure without finding a host. So it's not really like a mushroom. It's called a capella. Capelli con Nydia sport. Okay, so form of asexual reproduction. Yeah. And I'm just curious if you can talk about, you know, the difference between animorphs and tell you morphs and asexual versus sexual reproduction.

Willoughby 49:45
Yeah, so many types of fungi, for reproduce by asexual reproduction. Many reproduce by sexual reproduction and many will reproduce by either or, or both. A classic example that is easily observed is carbon antlers or candle snuff fungus they leiria hypoxylon, which grows out of wood with these black antler shaped fruiting bodies are stroma technically, that, at first when they're young, are covered in a whitish, a white spore powder at the tips of these black antlers, and that white powder is the sexual spores. And then eventually it goes into a sexual stage and creates para Theseus or little pimples that are filled with sexual reproductive asko spore producing cells Si, that sexual asko spores are then released. So asexual reproduction is more ancient and it comes from, you know, the the ancestry way back. The bacterial ancestors, bacteria reproduce asexually. And yeasts reproduce asexually, some of this simple single celled fungi, and it's basically just creating clones of oneself. So while it can be pretty efficient, and a relatively lower energy input, I think then reproducing sexually. With all the work involved in finding and courting a mate, I think some humans can probably relate to that can be can be a lot to get to the point of actually having a fruitful reproductive partner. Good works that it is. And but the asexual or animorph reproductive state doesn't allow for the adaptability in the next generation that you get from sexual reproduction. There's no recombination of genes, there may be a little bit of mutation. And perhaps some epigenetic adaptation, but not any big changes to the genome. So in terms of evolution, things will move much more slowly. Where whereas with sexual reproduction, or that, or that taleo morph phase in fungi, that does offer a lot of recombination of genes, just like in our human sexual reproduction. My kid really has characteristics of both her mother and myself. And hopefully, she's going to be a more Evolved Human than either of us.

Unknown Speaker 53:17
So that's the idea.

Willoughby 53:18
That's the idea. That's how evolution works, right? Normally, hopefully, yeah,

Alex 53:22
you got to get here into the local mushroom club at five.

Willoughby 53:27
Yeah, the meetings are a little after her bedtime. Usually. It made it really hard for me to get to the meetings actually. Maybe this month, we're looking at we're looking at if she has a good nap night and make it to this month's meeting together. Yeah, but so that adaptability from the sexual reproduction is exemplified by one fungus called schizo phylum commune, the split go fungus, that has many, many, many, many mating types, what we would think of as sexes is sconnie 23,328 mating.

Lera 54:12
Somehow, hell did we figure this out, like how did mycology is that such a precise number?

Willoughby 54:19
Ah, you know, I can't really tell you how they figured it out. It was decades and decades of, you know, post doctorate research. And the one of the mycologists that was responsible for figuring that out is a mycologist named cardi raper, and she was one of the first professional female mycologists in North America, or maybe even in the world. And she wrote a really nice memoir, slash Mushroom nerd book called a woman of science. The subtitle is an extraordinary journey of love discovery and the sex life of mushrooms. And so I've read that and found it to be quite enlightening. And basically, she was doing a lot of really intense lab work, genetic studies, with her team of scientists at Harvard, she was running a lab there for, I think, three decades or more. And they figured out that there are nine times 32 times nine times nine different differences that determine the mating cat, keep compatibility. In four different low sigh on the gene. There's the a complex and the B complex, each which have two parts. And of those four parts, there's nine, nine possibilities at one spot 32 possibilities at another spot. And then on the B complex, there's nine versions possible on nine versions possible. So you get this great level of diversity in in different meeting types. And then that results in almost each individual being able to mate compatibly with almost every other individual of the species. So and that has led this species to become one of the most common and one of the most widespread mushrooms on the whole planet. It that lives on every continent except Antarctica and grows on almost every type of wood, probably. I've seen it. I would say in almost every place. I've traveled in the world. I've seen it in Mexico. I've seen it in Morocco, I've seen it in in Spain, I've seen it in Italy, you know, it's just everywhere, right? Yeah, it's one of the only mushrooms that will grow on living human tissue as well. So do watch out for that. Incidentally, it is also edible and medicinal and is quite popular in a lot of cultures that live in the tropics, because it's pretty rot resistant. It can last for for a really long time. They're super resilient little mushrooms. And they're tough and chewy, but the flavor is really good. I've never actually cooked a meal of them and eaten them, but I have tasted it and it has a really nice mushroom flavor.

Lera 57:50

Alex 57:51
Yeah, actually, I just got back from China. And yeah, I saw them growing. They were cultivating it commercialized. Gorgeous in culture. Oh, it looks amazing. It looks really really cool. But I was kind of I was, you know, standing in this grow room. And you know, they had it, you know, air blowing around. And I was like, why don't I stay in here too.

Willoughby 58:14
Right. Yeah. Yeah. A lot of those spores could be exactly this to your health. Yeah. But luckily, it's mostly for people with extremely compromised immune systems, exact patients and such. Yeah, that are susceptible to those infections. Yeah, and there's been a number of cases documented, but it's by no means an epidemic. So you don't need to be overly afraid. listeners. Don't feel this mushroom. just expect it.

Alex 58:47
I'm going to take the wheel and take a complete 180 from trims growing out of your lungs too. The sexiest facts that you know of about the sex life of mushrooms.

Willoughby 59:03
Oh, the sexiest fact about mushrooms sexuality? Well,

Unknown Speaker 59:10
I just think about

Willoughby 59:13
the mushrooms that don't do it the typical way of aerial spore dispersal. When I think about the so called gas steroid fungi, which is to me a total misnomer, the mushrooms that produce their spores in their stomachs. So these would include the puff balls, the stink horns, the truffles, the bird's nest fungi, I think we should call them the uterine fungi because they are reproducing their reproductive cells internally. And in many of these have a pyridium membrane around them and the spores produced inside and released from there and that to me is the uterus is a much better analogy for that than the stomach. So I just think about these these uterine fungi the puffballs the stink horns as being really sexy in that they engage not only with their own species and the elements of the air and water to release their spores and disperse them, but oftentimes with other animals and other life forms as well. And the weather and their what we may call eco sexuals. of the fungi requiring help in their in their sexual act from from other living beings. So I do love stink horns.

Alex 1:01:08
Have you even have you ever eaten an egg of a stink

Lera 1:01:11
when I have you? I've eaten one raw. It was raw. Yeah.

Alex 1:01:17
Do you eat it?

Willoughby 1:01:18
I cooked it. Yeah, I cut them in half and fry them in butter. Wow, it was phallus in pewter kiss the classic. The sting corn. I found them in Scotland. And I found quite a lot of them. And like they say yes, I smelled them before I saw them. And they were many and they were big. And they were righteously erect. And except for the ones that were spent and placid. And the eggs. I saw I collected some eggs and I cook them up. But it's strange because they've got so many layers of so many different textures. The flavor is all right. It's kind of peculiar, but it's really the texture. That is so bizarre. And I can't say that it was particularly good or bad. It was just really weird as a thing to eat, and I would definitely try it again.

Lera 1:02:20
Yeah, raw, like a radish.

Willoughby 1:02:23
Yeah, kind of texture. It's like if you imagine that that Expo per diem or what becomes the volha is kind of like a tender balloon balloon with a layer of of jelly in it. That's like you know, I'm tempted to say sexually but you know, fridge temp chicken stock might be a bit more of a better textural analogy. And then inside of that is the immature gleyber this what becomes the sticky stinky spore goo on the outside of the head of the mushroom and that type kind of like dense and pasty and not yet stinky. And inside of that is the cap and and stock which becomes quite spongy when it expands having a lot of little air pockets kind of like foam rubber but a little bit crunchy and Chris but then this the stock is hollow and also filled with that a similar jelly like substance. So you've got like layers of balloon and gelatin and paste and crunchy styrofoam and more jelly it's far out kind of Ratatouille Wow.

Alex 1:04:01
I've never heard someone gives such a detailed explanation of any food before I know that has so many layers that was that was a journey of explanation thank you

Lera 1:04:15
very much everyone try it.

Willoughby 1:04:17
So the veiled lady sting corn or or tick do for it and DCM is also called bamboo fungus is a really popular edible in China. Did you encounter that one at all in your travels there? No,

Alex 1:04:34
a lot of black fungus like that in vinegar all day. That was nice. That was well.

Willoughby 1:04:42
That bamboo fungus is harvested and cultivated commercially, mostly outdoors in the ground in bamboo forests. And then the stinky spore goo is cleaned off and they're dried and then shipped here and among other places, and you can buy them in the Chinese herbs stores here. And some of the more upscale Chinese vegetarian restaurants will serve them. Often stuffed that because it's at that point, mostly just a hollow stock, and they'll stuffed them with some sort of savory stuffing. Although in the non vegetarian ones, I've heard these pork stuffing, and then they'll cover it in a clear starchy gravy. and serve it like that. And I've heard it's quite delicious. I've never tried it been tempted.

Alex 1:05:43
Have you ever taken an egg and, and grew it out? Yeah, yeah, I've done that. It's fun to watch. So great for any of our listeners, you can take a stinkhorn egg and take a little bit of soil and put it in a mason jar. And it will you get to watch it like every minute because it grows like, like we had a we had eggs and we went to bed. And it wasn't even like six hours later, seven hours later, we like roll over. And it's just like this huge mushroom. I'm like how the hell I mean, I wanted, I want to get a time lapse of this. They're they're really awesome.

Willoughby 1:06:24
I've I've read that they burst jars, whoa, that their expansion is so forceful that they've broken out of glass jars. So be careful with that because you end up with broken glass, and a stinky stained corn in your bedroom if you do that. Not as

Lera 1:06:43

Willoughby 1:06:46
Where I live here on the west coast, there are very few stand Koreans. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen one in the wild here on the west coast. I remember when I was about 10 or 12. Somebody brought one into the mushroom show in arcada. And I saw it there. They had it in a styrofoam takeout container on the on the table. So you could only look at you know, you'd only open it when you're looking at it and keep it closed otherwise, so the whole hallway.

Lera 1:07:17
Right? So we have one more question that we ask my guests. Uh huh. That is if mushrooms could speak. And they had one thing to say to the entire human race. What do you think they would say?

Willoughby 1:07:35
Wow, oh, my goodness, there are so many types of mushrooms. They're so diverse. And we are human race? Well, we also are diverse and multitudinous. I think I think I would suggest that every human who is interested in learning the answer to that question, just go sit with a mushroom and try to listen to it. And then go sit with another mushroom and try to listen to it. And really dive into that listening process and see what comes to you. But what I think I and I've heard this from many others, I think the greatest lesson that I've learned from, from fungi, from my years of listening to them, paying attention to them is that all life and indeed, everything is interconnected and interdependent, and unified. And their their ways of life and the ecosystem in which they live. And their form and functionality, though, the ways that they grow and live, all exemplify this interconnectedness, the ways they connect the cycles of life and death through decomposition and cycling of carbon and other nutrients. Please, I think the greatest lessons that I have learned from the fungi is just that everything that's connected and everything depends on everything else. directly.

Alex 1:09:28
Yeah, it's fun being in this interdimensional infinite universe. It's a lot of fun. And you just saying, you know, have everyone just sit with every machine to see what they're what they're saying. It just reminded me of how we send a rocket to space or a satellite with a song playing for aliens. So that's what they're going to hear. Vinnie aliens are asking that question of all If humans could talk, what would they say? And they just listened to that song. Do you know the name of that song?

Lera 1:10:07
I think is the very last song. It's called dog was the night called was the ground. But it's not the song you're talking about?

Alex 1:10:16
I think so. Yeah.

Lera 1:10:17
It's mostly just humming. It's actually by blind Willie Johnson. Interesting. Yeah.

Alex 1:10:25
Well, thank you so much will it be? This has been an awesome podcast and Kim, Madeline and Alex. Yeah. talking with you.

Lera 1:10:35
And everyone, be sure to check out Willoughby's book DIY mushroom cultivation. I've flipped through it a bit. And it's I think it's awesome, really accessible, as well as your website. mycelium connections dotnet. And you can find the book out there, right?

Willoughby 1:10:50
Definitely. And you can also get in touch with me through the website.

Alex 1:10:54
Awesome. And you also have, you're doing kind of a book launch. You're giving a talk or a series of talks, maybe some walks at the Sunshine Coast mushroom fest.

Willoughby 1:11:08
That's right. That's coming up here in BC on the first weekend of November, coming up this year 2019. So I'll be giving a talk about my book Friday evening. And then I'll be present all day Saturday as they have their mushroom show, kind of classic mycological society show where they have a bunch of mushroom specimens laid out and different demonstrations going on cooking demos, mushroom dyeing demos, tables of poisonous mushrooms, edible mushrooms, medicinal mushrooms, etc. And then also be there just engaging with folks talking with folks there and then hopefully leading a foray the following day.

Alex 1:11:59
Awesome. Well, everyone, definitely stay tuned to all the exciting things that we'll be is up to, and as always much love and may the spores be with you.