The biological network – fungi, ,plants, bacteria, micro & macroorganisms.
Way back when, I lucked in to having a roommate who was an amateur mycologist (fungologist I suppose). He introduced me to morels, and let me peruse his library (including Magical Mushrooms Mischievous Molds by George Hudler). I have a degree in biology, yet there was never a course on mycology offered. Botany, sure. Zoology of course. But an entire domain of life was left off the curriculum. It was pretty disappointing. So I made up for lost time. It was completely fascinating.
(also, I’m making pasta with berbere mushrooms for lunch, hence the inspiration…)
Although Paul Stamets isn’t the greatest public speaker, he knows his stuff, and this presentation is astounding. Some of this stuff I knew, but a lot of it is new.
Fungi are pretty much hyphae, long branching structures that grow and branch in organic matter. Fungi are little biochemical factories, and they are responsible for decomposition. Mushrooms on a rotting log, or mold on your bread are accomplishing the same thing – decomposing the organic matter, and rendering it back to the earth. They also work wonders in a compost heap.
The mushroom part is the reproductive body, (fruiting body) of the fungus, and is a very small part of the overall organism. It releases its spores far and wide, and so continues the cycle of life.
As for the network, the hyphae join with plant roots in what is called the mycorrhiza (meaning fungus-root). The fungus benefits from the plant’s photosynthesis, and the plant benefits from the nutrients broken down by the fungus. Given that one mushroom can create mycorrhiza with several plants, and that plants can have mycorrhiza with several fungi, this interconnective symbiosis can spread as far as the local ecosystem will allow.
In Oregon, is a species of honey mushroom that is believed to be the largest living organism. It’s believed to have colonized the land over 9 square kilometres, and is thought to be about 2400 years old. I believe that this species is edible, and I’ve actually eaten something labelled “honey mushroom” from Oregon. I can only imagine that it was part of this ancient being. As this one entity is spread over such a vast area, what does the mycorrhizal network in Oregon look like?
Also, hyphae grow like nerve cells.
Fun with Fungi
before I forget, check out this Effective Microorganisms site – buy your own living goo to make your plants happier (and lots of other applications).
No idea what species these are, but they spontaneously appeared in a pot with a citrus tree – I fed them a blueberry.
From what I recall in my research, fungus are older than plants, closer in phenotype to animals, and were the original agent for the colonization of land (see lichens). Also, their spores can survive space travel, which some believe is how life on earth began. There’s so much to go on about, but I’d rather leave it with experts, such as the fine folks at the MycoBank.
Here’s some bioluminescent fungi.
As you may recall (or not, who am I to judge?), the image below is called the Mycelium of Life, where the mycelium is the body of the fungus, i.e. a bundle of hyphae.
My thought was to remove the hierarchies associated with the various Trees of Life, and use something non-hierarchical. Mycelia are also an intrinsic part of the mycorrhizal network, which suggests interconnectivity as well as mutually beneficial symbiosis. It also suggests a connection with trees, i.e. the hierarchical, such that it is all inclusive and non-discriminatory.
The circles within circles of the above image are also like fairy rings, which suggests something magical, if not mystical (then there’s the whole magic mushroom thing, which is a whole other post entirely).
Mycelium of Life and the Maya Tree of Life
I’d read an account of a Maya myth regarding the tree of life, however, I haven’t been able to find the exact story again. The closest I’ve come is in the Chilam Balam of Chumuyel (a book of histories, prophecies, myth, healing and so on with variations from village to village, hence of Chumuyel) in which the Gods plant trees according to the four cardinal directions to commemorate rebirth after destruction of the world. I imagine that the story I read also informed the image of the mycelium of life, and so I’ll paraphrase it as I recall (and it’s not such a bad story, I just wish I had the time to compose it properly, or at least find the original).
The Maya tree of life, as many others, has its branches in the heavens, its roots in the underworld, and the trunk is the earth. There are 13 heavens and 9 levels of the underworld, however both the uppermost level of the underworld and the lowermost level of the heavens are equivalent to earth. This corresponds to the 12 outer circles, 8 inner circles and 1 central circle in the Mycelium illustration.
The tree of life bore every fruit, nut and berry from its branches in great abundance. Animals flocked to the tree to feed on them. The fruit and nuts and berries fell to the earth, some to be devoured, others to disperse their seeds far and wide, to cover the earth.
The tree dies, or is destroyed, or is cut down (take your pick), yet four trees (one at each cardinal point) grow out of the earth, and like their parent tree, burst forth with all manner fo fruit, nut and berry.
The important point to all of this is the central point (whether it be a living tree or a stump) and the trees at the four cardinal points. With this image in mind, then the mycelium of life is more like an overhead (or underfoot) view of the trees, one central and one for each direction, interconnected by the mycelia/hyphae.
I imagine this story had some influence on the development of the mycelium image, however, as they both rely heavily on the four cardinal points, I assume that’s a good part of the symmetry. The 12 + 1 + 8 equivalence is unintentional (as far as I’m aware), and the 52 paths was also unintentional (but as 52 is a key number in Maya numerology, a welcome coincidence).
All this to say, the mycelium of life as a symbol bears much in common from the mycorrhyza of life, and as such, I’m happy to keep posting it around (even though I’m still not sure what it is, or what it represents – something to meditate on if necessary).
258 Days to Dec 21st 2012