by Holli Elliott
The Mushroom: celebrated in infnite stories, enjoyed in billions of kitchens around the world, used for medicine and to invoke spiritual visions as long back as history can tell; it is a curiosity of collective lore and awe. Yet, the nearly supernatural properties of certain mushroom strains to restore damaged environments are just becoming known. In many cases, hidden beneath the ground, fungi mycelium is actively breaking down toxins and transforming polluted ecosystems into healthy ones.
Branching from the base of mushrooms are thin, threadlike mycelia that communicate so much information between plants and trees that it has become known, due to the scholarship of mycologist Paul Stamets, as the neural network of the terrestrial biosphere. Mycelium is found in soil or other substrates, sometimes spreading beneath a forest foor as one gargantuan organism, such as in Oregon where a 2,400-acre contiguous growth has been recorded as the largest organism in the world. Mycelium uses its reach to communicate vital information throughout the ecosystem. For example, if a tree at one end of a forest becomes sick, the mycelia can send this information to the other trees, so that they can boost up their immune systems and prevent contagious spread. As if that were not enough, mycelium moves beyond being the connective internet-type network for forests, to conducting large-scale environmental restoration by neutralizing toxic wastes through digestive processes.
As decomposing agents, mycelia of certain mushroom species have digestive systems able to break down recalcitrant bonds of many organic pollutants produced by human beings (and our love of oil and factory farms). With proper knowledge of this appetite, mycologists have been learning how to feed toxic wastes, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons of oil wastes, to mycelia. What plays out is nothing less than a magic show of ecological transfguration. The fruitbodies produced are no longer toxic! (I am looking to learn how to apply these same practices to runoff from chicken operations and petro-fertilizers used in conventional farming. If any of you have property with these types of problems or know others who are engaged in this work, please talk to me.) Mycelium and Mushrooms share with us the power to transform our toxic environments into once again thriving, healthy, abundant ecosystems. Jai-ho!
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