10 Fungi Facts That Will Make You Laugh, Cringe, and Wonder
Updated: Dec 7, 2022
As you read this, fungi are changing the world.
People are selling truffles for hundreds of thousands of dollars, using fungi to clean up oil spills, and watching mold find the nearest exit at Ikea.
Over the past two years, I’ve become completely fungi-obsessed. I fell in love with mushrooms in a dense Colombian forest where I encountered one of the most fascinating, potentially poisonous mushrooms in the world: Amanita Muscaria.
This mushroom has major Christmas vibes with its red and white spotted top. Traditionally, it has been used for its mind-altering effects in Nordic winter solstice celebrations. I was advised not to eat the mushroom so I just took photos of it instead. My curiosity was sparked; all that traveling never to think twice about the lives of fungi beneath my feet?
I just finished reading a truly magical book by Merlin Sheldrake, Entangled Lives. It’s a must-read but if you can’t get your hands on a copy, here are 10 mind-boggling fungi facts I learned from the book.
1. The Largest Living Organism on the Planet (that we know of) is a Fungus
The largest terrestrial organism on the planet is Armillaria solidipes – honey fungus – found in Oregon, USA. It holds a Guinness world record for being equivalent to around 28,000 soccer fields (more than 450x bigger than Vatican City). It’s known as the “Humongous Fungus.”
2. Plants only made it out of water and onto land thanks to Fungi
The union of algae and fungi gave rise to plants. Mycorrhizae is the term given to fungi roots attached to plant roots which exchange energy and nutrients. Plants give fungi sugars and, in return, fungi give plants nutrients and water. Around 80% of plants today associate with mycorrhizae to thrive and plants escaped from water to land through this mutually beneficial relationship.
3. 420 million years ago, Giiiiiant Fungi ruled the earth
More than 8 meters tall, prototaxites is like the dinosaur-version of fungi. When scientists prototaxites fossils in Canada, they were absolutely stumped (get it?). It was deemed to be a weird plant or algae until 100 years later when scientists figured out this was actually an enormous fungus. These huge creatures fed on dead and decaying matter. We don’t know why these beings went extinct, but fungi have never again ruled the world above the land like they once did.
4. Fungi can break down rock, crude oil, and plastics and feed of Radiation
Remember Chernobyl— notably the worst nuclear meltdown in history? A team of Ukrainian researchers found more than 200 fungal species at the site including jet-black fungi with pigment that influences the color of human hair, skin, and eyes and can protect against ultraviolet lights. The team found that these fungi were not only able to grow here but were able to thrive off the radiation.
5. Mushrooms have sex
Mushrooms reproduce through spores that are not visible to the naked human eye. Mushrooms release spores to create countless possibilities for reproduction. Each of these cells is taken by the wind to land in places across the planet and potentially grow a new mushroom. Each spore has a unique DNA; they are like snowflakes, no two are the same!
6. Bread Rises because of Fungi
Have you ever wondered how bread rises? We all know it’s because of yeast, right? But have you ever wondered what yeast is and how it makes bread almost magically become fluffy? Yeast is a single-celled fungus and the cells are alive when you mix them into the dough. You heard it: Your bread is made delicious because of these living organisms. Yeast releases enzymes that convert the flour starch into sugar and those sugars cause CO2 to be released. This process = trapped gas and bubbles, aka fluffy and delicious bread.
7. Fungi communicate via electrical waves
Sheldrake states, “We think fungi transmit brain-like electrical signals through mycelia to communicate with distant parts of themselves.” Only two scientific studies have been done on this subject which is why it’s still an enigma.
8. Romans prayed to the god of mildew, Robigus
Fungi is both awe-some and fearsome. The Romans celebrated Robigalia on April 25th to appease Robigus, the god of Mildew or “crop rust.” They sacrificed a dog and would carry its entrails around to keep the fungi from growing on the grain. I’m not sure if that is the best way to keep disease away…but hey, if the Romans had an entire celebration with processions and sacrifices, fungi were clearly respected.
9. The first modern antibiotic is a fungus
Before modern antibiotics where implemented, any minor infection could cause havoc in the body. Alexander Fleming, a Scottish scientist, discovered how to isolate this mold into what we now know as Penicillin which changed the course of WWII.
10. Fizzy drinks are brought to you by...FUNGI!
Citric acid is the thing that makes our drinks fizzy and is naturally found when citrus fruits undergo a fermentation process with the fungus Aspergillus niger and the yeasts of Candida species. Yes, that bubbly wine in a can is possible thanks to fungi.
Okay Sofía, that is pretty neat. How can I use fungi in my everyday life to strengthen my health?
I am so glad you asked! While Fungi are cool because they eat radiation, they are also amazing for human health when properly consumed. Functional mushrooms are a category of mushrooms that serve the human body in multiple ways. Many have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory benefits as well as immune-supporting benefits.
Remember, Fungi are cool for the Earth and fungi are cool for you.
PS. If you read this far, you may want to join our next collective healing course. It's live, intimate, and will have you making changes in your lifestyle and nutrition you never thought you could. Write me.