Why future homes could be made of living fungus
Why future homes could be made of living fungus
This wonderful fungi specimen was growing on an old willow tree. Unmistakable, the Latin name Laetiporus sulphureus refers to its sulphurous colour and the country name chicken of the woods, refers to the taste of the flesh. Anyone who reads these blogs regularly will know my feelings about actually eating fungi . This seductive fungi can cause gastric upset in some people, but not often. If it grows on yew it can contain the poisonous chemicals of the tree.
This beauty was growing on a huge willow and willows give us the Salic acid from which aspirin are made. So, if you ate this chicken of the woods, could it cure your headache at the same time?
Some fungi you remember from their smell, some from sight and just a few from their sound.
This yellow morel was under an open hedge and was already broken, so I picked it up and as I did so the honeycomb shape made the oddest dry hollow sound, unlike any fungi I have ever heard . I have never even considered the sound of fungi before, but on retrospect I expect a largish mushroom to sound solid and sturdy but this was light and reverberated to the touch.
Yellow morels are apparently very good to eat, but I am very wary of eating fungi as they are so astonishingly different at each stage of their development . The only thing I have ever confidently eaten was a giant puff ball as it simply cannot be anything else once it has reached football size!
Foraging for fungi is very fashionable but I was once nearly killed by a forest mushroom sauce at my favourite French restaurant. I have never been back and I have never eaten mushroom sauce again, much better to admire them and even to listen to them then ever to actually eat them!
I am almost over my horror of fungi.
This autumn has been extraordinary in the rich variety of mushrooms coaxed up by the rain, but I will never be tempted to eat any of them again.
This particular mushroom cap was thin and as smooth as porcelain. The edge was lined, as if it had shrunk back with delicate avoidance of the falling leaves pattering down all around it.
The aspen leaves were yellow and then black – no warming russets or browns to lull you – they know winter is coming and lay down to die with minimal fuss.
They only leave behind an unexpected perfume without the slightest a hint of decay . Something soft left lingering in the air.
Being alive is a complicated thing.
Our understanding of existence comes from the senses, and our communication of it comes through language. Language can be read, all safely and quietly separate: writer and reader apart; or it can be spoken, speaker and listener together, so dangerously prone to misunderstanding, mishearing and misspeaking.
We understand by seeing. We can capture wonderful images with technology and can share the experience. Just as with the printed word, the image and the viewer are safely separated . When there is no technology between us, we try to understand each other by looking at one another, by reading faces and posture and just like with language we often misread one another.
Touch is a sense so fraught with potential misunderstanding that we restrict it to pets, petals and the smooth, smooth coolness of a stripped stump: smoke grey and strong, a tactile brush that cannot possibly be misunderstood.
The autumn leaves were falling in a dry rustle around us as the trees slowly, reluctantly gave into the darkening days and sighed down to the woodland floor. My eye was caught by something bright red: careless trash, I assumed, but stopped a moment to check.
Among the leaves was something far odder, older and much fouler than a discarded sweet wrapper. Spongy, fleshy, organic and disturbing, on an October afternoon I had stumbled upon a witch’s heart lying decomposing on the forest floor.
Clatharus ruber has many names: witch’s heart; stinking basket; Stinking cage and it is found in Europe and also in the Americans. The cage of rubbery bright red life erupts from a white egg and the first naturalist to describe it in the 16th century thought it was a marine animal . This fungus appears and decays into a stinking mass in 24 hours. This film clip shows the whole gruesome process:
It took the contents of my water bottle to wash the stinking fungal spores off my fingers. The smell is utterly repellent. You would have to be a carrion fly to appreciate it, but I am glad I got to hold the heart of a witch for just a few jellified, soul shuddering moments!
Thank you to all those made wonderful guesses at the identity of the mysterious dripping wombat/ hedgehog .
The extraordinary solid wheeping dome was the start of a bracket fungi called a Red Belted Bracket ( I think!). It takes years to mature and the original photo showed the first pulse of the fruiting body on a felled pine tree.
At first I thought a cyclist had left a water bottle on the pile of cut wood as it gleamed with droplets. I stretched out my hand tentatively, maybe the drops were solidifying resin, but no, they were ordinary water and lots of it. The log on which it was growing had been cut for months and there has been no rain for weeks and yet the fungi had found water to pump out all around itself in a sheath of jewels. As we clambered over the log pile we found the fungi in all states of development. The final unmistakable bracket was creamy white underneath, sweet smelling and still fringed in perfect droplets like tears.
A beautiful piece of creation and a salutary lesson in the mutability of fungi and how difficult they can be to safely identity as they change almost out of recognition as they grow.