Are we entering a mushroom age?
The symbiosis of humans and the planet is a bit out of whack at the moment. The influence the human race has had on the planet is becoming more and more devastating. However, we can get ourselves unstuck with the help of one of natures most fascinatingly intelligent organisms: mycelium, the roots of mushrooms.
Paul Stamets says ‘wantonly destroying our life-support ecosystems is tantamount to suicide, Enlisting fungi as allies, we can offset the environmental damage inflicted by humans by accelerating the organic decomposition of the massive fields of debris we create.’
Mycelium is the fibrous network of ‘roots’ from all mushroom species. It grows in natural environments and is a highly functional part of our world, even though very little people know it exists. The mushrooms are the fruiting body of the large organism that is made up of many tiny strands of hyphae that form a network. Once the mycelium has used up the nutrient available it starts producing mushrooms, when the mushrooms have fully grown they produce spores, tiny ‘seeds’ that get blown through the wind (although some species have other methods), these drop to the ground where they germinate and begin to grow mycelium again. The aim of mycelium is to continue to exist while providing huge benefits for the natural world.
Why is it helpful to us?
I can see a confused look on your face. To cut straight to the chase, mycelium can be made into a material that can be useful in our modern world.
Mycelium is the roots of all fungal organisms, and there are millions of species, which means there is also millions of types of mycelium, this affects the characteristics of it in material form. However, there are some benefits that span the majority of fungal species:
Strong when compressed
Biodegradable in a natural environment
There are a handful of scientists, designers and mycologists developing the material in different ways (mycelium leather, anyone?) and with big corporations getting on board with its benefits it is likely we will be seeing more mycelium products in our lives.
Allowing mycelium to fruit into mushrooms is an exciting process, one that I think everyone would enjoy doing at home. If we were to grow our own mushrooms at home we would save on transport and plastic pollution which is an effect of the supermarket produce. I have tried it myself and can speak from experience by saying it is much more fun and fascinating that you think.
Photography by Anisa Xhomaqi