My Fungi are Smarter than Your Honor Student

I’m going to continue my tradition of reviewing books several months — or in this case, years — after they’ve actually been published.  Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, by mycologist Paul Stamets, was published waaaaay back in 2005, before I had kids.  If there was some sort of uproar when this book was published, I might have missed it because I was busy leading the devil-may-care lifestyle of the child-free: going to movies, meeting up with friends, sometimes even staying out past 8pm.

Now that I’m more domestic, I get to spend my evenings the way I’ve wanted to all along — reading books about obscure plants!

And let me tell you, if your attitude toward fungi is anything like mine was (disdainful, ambivalent at best) then you need to read Mycelium Running.

First, a word about terminology.  Mycelium refers to networks of fungus cells that inhabit soil or any other organic host — rotting logs, for example.  The fungi strands in this network are threadlike, microscopic, often only one cell wide.  Mushrooms, then, are actually the fruiting bodies of these mycelium. 

That’s not the cool part, though.

What blew my mind are some of Stamets’ pronouncements about this living network of mycelium: that it is a form of intelligence not unlike the human brain, that it can form mats which cover hundreds of continuous acres, that it can sense movement and distress in its ecosytem and work to repair damage, that it acts as “a collective fungal consciousness.”

 OMG, right?  Shoulda called the book Mycelium Rocking.

Continue reading