Updated: Apr 11, 2022
It isn’t often I give thanks to a film, but the visually impactful documentary called Fantastic Fungi has opened the doors to the wonders that quite often most people just walk right over.
It may sound a bit of a cliché when I say that everything is connected. However, in the world of mycology (which is a branch of science studying fungi) it really is.
Think of a time when you have witnessed a pot bound house plant. A plant that has remained in its pot for far too long and its roots are all tightly squashed together, restricted to one place, it looks like a crazy underground rail network service – on steroids! So many lines, intertwined, appearing to be completely random, the whiteness of the roots are so bright in comparison to the dark earth. Yet the plant remains alive, it needs space, freedom to grow.
This analogy can also be compared to our own life. Are you pot bound? Have your roots been growing yet nowhere to grow into? Do you feel constricted and feel like to can’t open yourself up?
You may have heard about mycorrhizal networks, which are formed by what are called 'hyphae'. This hyphae is microscopic strands of fungi which enable the water, nutrients, and microorganisms to move from areas of abundance to areas of need. These hyphal networks have been known to extend over vast distances, and interconnect multiple plant species.
Mushrooms are the ‘fruit’ of these networks. A better way to understand this is by an apple tree. The tree itself is the mycorrhizal networks, the hyphae are the branches and twigs, the mushrooms are the apples. Just as there are many different varieties of apples, so there are of mushrooms.
The magic is that all of this is happening right underneath the ground without the majority of people even knowing about it! However, to the knowing eye, you can always see signs of what is happening.
There are certain times of the year when you can find particular varieties of mushrooms. Right now, it is coming into April and there are the remnants of the Scarlett Elf Cup, a beautiful bright red cup shaped mushroom which likes to hide amongst leaves. Jelly Ears which you will find on mainly dead elder and really do feel in my opinion weird and squishy. Some types of Inkcaps which grows in the grass. Brackets which prefer beech, birch and willow and look like large flat saucers sticking out from the wood, and King Alfred cakes which are black as coal and mainly grow on dead ash. Although in the UK the mushroom season is from around July to November.
The most interesting fact about fungi is that it is neither plant or animal, they have a kingdom all of their own. Fungi Are Vital to the Environment. Fungi play a key role in the cycle of nutrients in the environment. They are one of the main decomposers of dead organic matter. Without them, the leaves, dead trees, and other organic matter that build up in the forests wouldn't have their nutrients available for other plants to use. For example, nitrogen is a key component that is released when fungi decompose organic matter.
So next time you take a walk out in nature, among the trees, take a moment and cast your eyes downwards and imagine a bright white network pulsing with life beneath the very place you stand, connecting all the tress and plants around you together, feeding each other, supporting growth and exchanging nutrients.
We are all connected.