Mycelium Running

Paul Stamets’ Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World is an informative text, written by a true believer. While it contains a lot of practical information, the author’s unbridled enthusiasm sometimes makes you doubt how valid the more fantastic claims are. That being said, it certainly provides some concrete and believable examples of situations where the strategic use of fungi can have beneficial health and environmental effects.

After providing some basic information about the biology of fungi, Stamets covers four different kinds of ‘mycorestoration.’ He shows how patches of mycelium (the tangled, stringy mass that makes up the bulk of fungi) can be used to filter water flowing through – an application that might have particular value downslope from farm animals. The section on mycoforestry shows how mushrooms can accelerate the breakdown of debris from logging, allowing nutrients to return to the soil. It also addresses the ways in which mycorrhizal fungi on the roots of plants can enhance their growth and health. In a section on mycoremediation, Stamets highlights the ability of different fungi to digest or absorb toxic materials ranging from crude oil to nerve gas to radioactive strontium. Finally, a section on mycopesticides describes ways in which insect-attacking fungi can be used to prevent and cure insect infestations.

In addition to the sections outlining the potential of fungi in general, the book includes a lot of practical information about different types of mushrooms, their uses, and how to grow them. It covers different ways of going from spores to a mushroom patch, at scales ranging from a small garden installation to the very large scale. The last hundred pages is a species-by-species catalogue of different mushrooms: how they look, how to grow them, nutritional information, etc. The assertions about mushrooms having intelligence (partly on the basis of mycelium looking like neurons in a brain), I definitely have my doubts about. The step-by-step instructions on producing mushroom patches, I have no doubt could be invaluable to someone wishing to put fungal theory into practice.

Fungi are probably the class of organisms least well understood by most people, and it is rewarding to gain a deeper understanding of the roles they play in ecosystems. More information can be found on Stamets’ website, which also sells various types of mushroom kit and spawn.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

9 thoughts on “Mycelium Running

  1. Mycelium Running
    Cool Tools

    Mushrooms as solution. Fungi as ninja warriors. That’s what this spirited, hyperkinetic book offers. Mushrooms as solutions to pollution (mycological remediation), fungi as a soil supplements for vegetables (companion planting), and as a source of human medical nutrition (harvested from inoculated logs, sawdust, cardboard) — in other words, mushrooms to save the world.

  2. Do-It-Yourself Mushrooms

    Published: April 14, 2010

    HAVE you seen the Mushroom Man? No? Well, have you looked in the Secret Garden? It’s a real place, you know, a half-hidden community garden at the corner of Linden Street and Broadway, in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

    The Mushroom Man is real, too. His name is Kendall Morrison — he’s 47 years old and semiretired from the publishing business — and on any given weekend, you’re likely to find him in a shady grove of silver maples, cultivating eight varieties of mushrooms.

    You might not be able to tell right away what Mr. Morrison is doing. He may be wielding a hand drill, for instance, boring holes into a salvaged oak log. Or he may be pounding inchlong dowels into the wood with a mallet, each little peg impregnated with shiitake mushroom spawn.

    “We started right around November,” Mr. Morrison said, referring to his 15 volunteers, “and we haven’t stopped. As long as we can work back there, we worked. Even when there was snow on the ground.”

    There are perhaps 200 billets now, stacked like Lincoln Logs. While the wood sits impassively, as logs will do, long strands of mushroom — or mycelium — are infiltrating the grain and starting to decompose it. Later this spring and in the fall, the logs should flush with “fruit” where the spawn went in.

  3. If small-scale mushrooming is indeed a movement, Mr. Morrison seems to have a growing number of comrades nationwide. “Plug spawn sales are increasing dramatically,” said Paul Stamets, a prominent mycologist and founder of Fungi Perfecti, the Washington-state company from which Mr. Morrison orders many of his spawn and supplies.

    “The mushroom kit sales are increasing at maybe 25 percent per year, for the last three years,” he said. “The plug spawn sales are easily double that over a three- or four-year period.”

    Mr. Stamets, 54, attributes this new popularity to the “magical” flush of the mushroom. “They’re seemingly invisible, and yet they erupt into view within a day or two,” he said. “There are mushrooms that will break through concrete, and there are mushrooms that form fairy rings. People are curious about that.”

  4. Scientists have discovered what they say are four different species of “zombie fungus” in the Brazilian rainforest, which take over the brains of their host ants, forcing them to move to a location ideally suited to the fungus before killing them.

    In a study published March 2 in the journal Plos ONE, researchers from Brazil, the United Kingdom and the United States say they began to investigate after noticing different types of fungus growing out of the bodies of carpenter ants.

    “This so-called zombie or brain-manipulating fungus alters the behaviour of the ant host, causing it to die in an exposed position, typically clinging onto and biting into the adaxial surface of shrub leaves,” the authors write.

    The fungus then grows — usually out of the ant’s head and neck region — and releases its spores.

    The fungus, Ophiocordyceps, was originally thought to be a single species, but the researchers determined that there were actually four species at work.

  5. Bioremediation
    Bottom feeders
    A novel way of dealing with an unpleasant problem

    Apr 20th 2011 | from the print edition

    DESPITE their name, disposable nappies are notoriously difficult to dispose of. Studies of landfills suggest they may take centuries to rot away. But Alethia Vázquez-Morillas of the Autonomous Metropolitan University in Mexico City thinks she has found a method of speeding the process up.

    As she and her colleagues describe in Waste Management, cultivating the right type of mushroom on soiled nappies can break down 90% of the material they are made of within two months. Within four, they are degraded completely. What is more, she says, despite their unsavoury diet the fungi in question, Pleurotus ostreatus (better known as oyster mushrooms), are safe to eat. To prove the point she has, indeed, eaten them.

  6. Mushrooming Without Fear

    Can you tell the difference between a head of cabbage and a head of lettuce? Then you can safely pick and eat some wild mushrooms. The key is to learn to identify a few easily identifiable delicious species, and then stick with these easy ones for a while. This book does a fantastic job of holding your hand every step of the way. It gives you reliable rules for learning 10 or so yummy and safe mushrooms. I wish I had this book when I was first starting out. It is a great substitute for going out with an expert.

  7. Fuzzyatelin, a field biologist, offers graphic and compelling advice on keeping your feet dry during your fieldwork.

    1) For frak’s sake, DRY OUT YOUR SOCKS. Put them over the fan over night so that you have 5 precious, precious moments of dryness before stepping out that door into the rain again…

    2) Air everything out. For real. I mean everything. If you have electricity, lay in front of a fan in the buff for at least two hours every evening. You think I’m joking… but:

    3) When your feet start to bleed – and boy, will they ever – don’t panic. The hole that appears to be eating its way into the space between your 4th and 5th toes on your right foot won’t go any deeper than a full centimeter (you know this because you stuck your finger inside of it and then measured the extent of the bloody seepage on your pinkie finger… the hole is that wide and deep).

    4) Ditch the hat. Ditch the hat. Ditch the – oh. Now it’s on your scalp.

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