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Part Two: Forest


Dear Jim,

There are many important things to know about mushrooms.

But one thing that I did not previously know about mushrooms is this:

It is IMPOSSIBLE to be able to schedule an exact time for mushroom gathering.

Do not make plans.

Do not promise you will be back in time for lunch.

There are no guarantees to be made here.

Mushroom gathering is unbelievably addictive.

Even when you have a full basket, and more mushrooms than you could possibly eat, you still find yourself scouring the forest floor for more.

Just one more, just over that rock, just beyond that fallen tree.

And that, I’m sure, is how people regularly get lost in the forest.

It’ certainly how I get lost.

Head down and chasing a strange fungus trail, I zigzag along without any sense of direction.

And I’m not that bad with directions when I’m concentrating…

I have a mushroom dictionary. It has six main categories:

3 star = delicious

2 star = good

1 star = ok flavour

1 cross = toxic

2 crosses = very toxic

3 crosses = deadly

There are two varieties of mushrooms that I pick here - they are easy to identify, and don’t have any toxic twins.

I don’t pick any mushrooms that are white, as there are 3 star white mushrooms, as well as 3 cross white mushrooms.

The deadly poisonous white mushroom is most commonly known as “Destroying Angel”.

I have no intention of being destroyed by an angel, or anything else, so I steer clear.

What I find funny is, that everyone here talks about mushrooms being “3 star” or “2 star”.

I can’t help but wonder who decided these classifications?

I like to think that there is some old man in a room full of mushrooms, who has an exceptional pallet. He tries all the mushrooms, deeming them worthy or not of his stars.

The other thing I’ve discovered about mushrooms, is that they are unbelievably clever.

They actually talk to trees.

Not just in a mystical fairytale way, in a scientific, this-is-a-proven-fact way.

Certain species of mushrooms (known as mycorrhizal fungi - don’t worry, I haven’t worked out how to pronounce it yet either) colonise most tree’s root systems. The roots of the fungi form a relationship with the roots of the plant. This relationship is so complex that the fungi connections allows the trees to communicate with one another, acting like phone lines or power lines, sending messages throughout the forest. These messages can travel up to 400 metre!

So scientists have started calling this, the Wood Wide Web - internet for trees.

The relationship between the fungi and the plants is so complex, that the fungi can actually activate different chemical occurrences within the plants they connect with.

For instance, if trees or plants are in an area where the soil has a high clay content, they struggle to receive nutrients from it. However, fungi have the ability to access that nutrients more easily, and feed it directly into the root systems of the plants.

This communication network is used for all sorts of things: to assist plants in combatting insects, to relocate nutrients, even prevent rain water from washing certain elements out of the soil.

This network has been in existence for thousands of years, and I can’t help but think that there must be something we can learn from this.

About how we communicate, share resources, adapt and change, understand the needs of the community.

It astounds me that our knowledge can uncover such incredible discoveries, but we seemingly can’t apply this knowledge to anything beyond scientific data.

It makes me think of a Herman Melville quote:

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibres connect us with out fellow men: and among these fibres, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”

So we are not so different from the Mycorrhizal Fungi Network after all, just perhaps not so good at managing ourselves.


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© Alisa Tanaka-King 2020