Saturday, November 20, 2010

Fungus among us!

Here's the thing about me, mushrooms, and their kin. I think they're awesome. But, I also think they're disgusting. I guess I'd just forgotten this fact between my walk on Friday and six minutes ago when I opened my library book (The Kingdom Fungi: The Biology of Mushrooms, Molds, and Lichens) to browse the photos in the hopes some of the specimens of the Spokane woods might appear in the pages. Yeah, I made it like 4 seconds before remembering Cordyceps (which I first learned about watching Planet Earth with Rachel and Dan {an experiment in wonderment and terror}. And if you're not familiar with the parasite Cordyceps, watch this video and then prepare to never go outside again. Also, I dare you not to almost puke.). I should have anticipated what I would find inside a book with a terrifying penis fungus on the front cover and a fungus commonly called starfish stinkhorn on the back. There, I've said it. 

Seems innocent enough, right? Wrong! 

You probably know (or if you don't, you should) that I'm not a squeamish individual. Any light squeamishness I encounter is usually replaced by curiosity and a pleasant feeling of disgust. It's just how I roll. But this book forces me to confront one of the things I fear the most: something yucky growing inside my body. I'm all for good bacteria keeping my gut organs in order, but I don't want anything bursting (a word, which in the context of fungus, cannot be beneficial for anything but the fungus) from my body and fruiting (which is what a fungus likes to do before it pops its spore top).

And for the record, I opened The Kingdom Fungi again, like 2 minutes ago, and I had to close it because it gave me a physical chill. I shuddered. For real. How am I going to fill my brain with all this fungus knowledge when I can't keep the book open for more than 47 seconds at a stretch? It's a dilemma.

But I do want to mention that the fact this book scares the crap out of me does not, in any way, detract from my respect for Steven L. Stephenson, the author (who appears, from his book jacket picture, to be a very nice, fungus-forward man) and conductor of slime mold research on six continents including "the polar regions of both the Arctic and Subantarctic." And I realize that the previous sentence (and, honestly, the author's name) might seem like an exercise in facetiousness on my part, but I meant it in all sincerity, truly.

Also, I feel like I should tell you that the scientific name for the largest group of slime molds is Myxomycetes. If I knew how to pronounce it, I think it would sound lovely. (Wait! Internet can tell me how to pronounce it! "Mix-o-my-seats." That totally makes sense. That's something I could have sounded out.  Why didn't I?)

And now, the fungi.

Maybe you're thinking: Oh, David the Gnome could have lived under this. 
But he couldn't, actually.
He rode a fox named Swift, and was, in all reality, too big for a fungus house.

This fungus should be called the ghost nipple.

Always in the leaf litter, up to no good.

Intricate and beautiful. But would I touch it? No. No. Never.

I saw this mushroom and thought, suppurating, and took this picture.

I happened to see a picture of this in the book.
It is called, fittingly, the coral fungus.

These are pixie-cup lichens. I know that much at least. Hey, remember when Sarah first enters the labyrinth, all the little eyeball
wall clingers follow her and go "ooh-h-ee-ee-oh-h-h" and so on? And this is so off topic, but are you aware of all the fan-fiction
 trailers for Labyrinth on youtube? I hope you just clicked on that link to watch some!

There are a couple other things I want to mention while we're on the subject of fungi. First: It's almost the end of the fungus post and I've opened up The Kingdom Fungi more times than I thought possible--enough times, in fact, to realize that there is a chapter on fossil fungi with pictures. Things are looking up. And second: The opening paragraph of Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle (A recommendation from Dan, by the way. {Two unrelated mentions in one post? Seems unlikely, yet here it is.}) has a mushroom mention. It is also one of my favorite opening paragraphs ever (or at least in the last two years). Which brings me to my two-pronged attack for ending this post without being in mortal fear of mushrooms.

1) from We Have Always Lived in the Castle
"My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead."

2) And because I filled this post with so many words I'm not down with at all, I'm going to end it with several words I enjoy quite a lot.

Cellar. Labyrinth. Crocodilian.

Yes, labyrinth is one of my favorite words. But I think you'd agree that even independent of the movie, it is a really awesome word. And there's one more word that I love and always think about, but I've forgotten it at the moment. How can that happen?

Cordyceps. That's how.

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