This otherwise boring polypore has an incredibly strong anise-like odor. Native Americans of the Northern Plains considered this mushroom to have healing and spiritual properties. Haploporus odorus can be found growing on hardwood trees in northern boreal forests. In North America, it prefers the Diamond Willow tree, which gives it the common name “Diamond Willow Fungus.” Another English common name is the “Aniseed Polypore,” which refers to its unique aroma.
fungal influences on human culture
Phellinus igniarius is probably the most dangerous regularly-consumed mushroom. By itself, the mushroom is pretty much useless. However, many Native American groups discovered that the ashes of igniarius will increase the buzz of chewing tobacco. Today, this practice is particularly widespread among Native Alaskans. Despite attempts by health agencies to discourage this practice, usage rates are still above 50%.
Across the globe, Amanita muscaria (the “Fly Agaric”) is the go-to mushroom for connecting humans with the divine. I will forego describing this mushroom, since I have already done that in FFF#069. Fortunately, you are familiar with this toadstool. It is the mushroom with a red cap covered in white dots, with white gills underneath, and supported by a white stipe. Probably about 90% of mushroom art is based on this mushroom, so you have definitely seen it around (for example: in Mario games, Disney’s Fantasia, lawn decorations, and Christmas ornaments). Aside from the visual aesthetic the mushroom provides in your daily life, muscaria has had a deep and lasting impact on a variety of cultures around the world, from Hinduism to Siberian shamans to Santa Claus.
You are undoubtedly familiar with this mushroom, even if you recognize neither its scientific name, Amanita muscaria, nor its common name, “The Fly Agaric.” If the word “mushroom” does not immediately bring this fungus to mind, then the word “toadstool” probably does. You have certainly encountered Amanita muscaria’s distinctive red cap with white spots in a wide variety of visual art forms. This toadstool frequently pops up in paintings, cartoons, video games, movies, and decorations. It is because of the artistic over-use of the Fly Agaric that I referred to it above as “The Type Mushroom.” When describing a new taxonomic division or species of fungi, mycologists collect a “type specimen” which best exemplifies the characteristics of that taxon. This ensures that future mycologists know exactly what the original author intended to include in that taxon. In human society, muscaria has become the type specimen for mushrooms. This is probably...
This fungus parasitizes caterpillars in the Himalayas and produces small, spike-like mushrooms. These mushrooms are highly prized for their supposed medicinal properties and have brought a lot of new wealth and new problems to the people living in the Himalayas. Ophiocordyceps sinensis fruiting bodies are known as “Yartsa Gunbu” in Tibetan and “Dōng Chóng Xià Cǎo” in Chinese, both of which translate to “winter worm, summer grass.” The English names for the fungus are much less colorful: “Caterpillar Fungus” or (more recently) “Himalayan Viagra.” sinensis (Fungi, Ascomycota, Sordariomycetes, Hypocreales, Ophiocordycipitaceae) is native to the meadows of the Himalayas and Tibetan plateau and can be found from 3,000m to 5,000m above sea level. The parasitic fungus infects a variety of species of ghost moth larvae that live underground. It initially infects the caterpillars in the late summer. By winter, the fungus is ready to kill its host. At that time, it...
Literature Connection: “A Glow in the Dark” from Gary Paulsen’s Woodsong [text here]. I remember reading this short story for an English class in grade school, probably sometime in October. It was only after re-reading this story for this post that I realized how much of the story had stuck with me over the past 7 to 11 years. Maybe now I know I found it so compelling. We were most likely learning about suspense at the time, which is why I decided to use this story for the Fungus Fact Friday post before Halloween. After reading this story and my explanation, you should never again question whether or not fungi can be scary.