Mushrooms are an incredibly diverse part of our world, and with this diversity comes a wide array of amazing features and abilities! With over 700 million years of evolution behind them, mushrooms have picked up some pretty neat tricks over the millennia! Some of these tricks are even more impressive than Morel Mushrooms “coincidentally” looking like the pine cones they grow next to. (COINCIDENCE?? I think NOT! Nefarious factors are at play!)
Without further ado: let’s jump right into my little compilation of 10 of the most interesting known facts about mushrooms!
1: Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus) Mushrooms turn into actual, usable black ink!
Shaggy manes are quick to grow, and even quicker to melt into black goo! This melting is known as deliquescence, and the mushrooms that go through this process are known as “ink caps” for good reason! The “ink” that results from the mushroom turning to liquid can be used as *actual ink*, for art projects, calligraphy or just to write a letter! Artist Abigail Whelan says that all it takes is reducing and straining the liquid the mushrooms produce usable ink! Clove oil can be added to prevent mold, you can add binders if you want, or water to dilute if you reduce too far, but none of that is necessary to have a usable product. She does give a warning about the smell that the mushrooms produce when you reduce them! Apparently it is… not pleasant. In her words: “The smell of boiling rotten mushrooms mixed with cloves is horrid. I was not popular with my family!” 😂
2. Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus) are carnivorous!
Commonly found in some grocery stores, Oyster Mushrooms are also one of about 150 kinds of mushrooms considered carnivorous. These edible mushrooms paralyze their nematode (roundworm) prey with a liquid toxin, then digest them once they've been immobilized! This is thought to be the fungi's main source of nitrogen.
3. Gravitropism - holy crap, that's neat!
This is one of my favorite features about fungi! It's seen most often in conk/shelf mushrooms that started growing on a living tree that has now fallen to the ground. Basically: when the fungus originally grows, it orients its pore surface towards the ground, to protect it from the rain and have the best chance to reproduce. When a tree with shelf/conk mushrooms on it falls to the ground, these mushrooms will often re-orient the pore surface of new growth to point back toward the ground, resulting in a ninety-degree angle of mushroom growing off of itself! The phenomenon can create some absolutely stunning sights, and is a true testament to the resilience of nature and ability of fungi to adapt and overcome.
4. Blue-Green Elf Cups (Chlorociboria) permanently color the interior of the wood that they grow on!
These beautiful, tiny cup fungi are responsible for creating a unique pigment known as xylindein! The mycelium (roots, for fungi) of these mushrooms also makes this pigment, and this causes the interior of the wood that it grows on to be naturally and permanently colored a gorgeous blue-green hue! This colored wood can be used in art of all sorts, such as the 15th century Italian inlays that I mention in my Blog on Chlorociboria. This incredible fungus was actually the very beginning of Mushroom Marauder! After years of wandering by (or snapping a pic of) Chlorociboria, I finally took some colored branches home to attempt some art projects… Those branches became the very first of my Chlorociboria Creations, which I still make today whenever I can find the time!
5. Lobster Mushrooms (Hypomyces lactifluorum) are two fungi in one!
These mushrooms are some of my personal favorites to find, and study! Lobster mushrooms are actually two mushrooms: a host mushroom and a parasite fungus. The host mushroom in my area (Pacific Northwest) is Russula brevipes. It is a large, white, gilled, brittle mushroom that is prone to bugs and has a very short shelf life. When it is attacked by the parasite Hypomyces lactifluorum, it turns very firm, bright orange, the gills fuse over entirely, shelf life increases and flavor changes… becoming the “Lobster Mushroom” that is a well-known choice wild edible! Another neat fact about Lobster Mushrooms: they're so solid, the best way to clean them is with high pressure water from a garden hose, which I mention in my blog about Cleaning Foraged Mushrooms.
6. Artist’s Conks (Ganoderma applanatum) can be used to make completely natural art that lasts for decades!
These large, solid shelf mushrooms are called "artist’s conks” for a darn good reason! While some people use the large, flat area to paint on, you can also use the natural properties of the mushroom to make art! The white pore surface of the fresh mushrooms turns dark brown if you bruise it, even just handling the underside of the mushroom will leave brown fingerprints! If you use a toothpick or fine-tipped sculpting tool, you can draw fine designs into the mushroom just by bruising the surface! The bruising that you cause is permanent if the mushroom has been picked, so after it dries over the next few days, you have completely natural art that will likely last longer than you do!
7. Split Gill Mushrooms (Schizophyllum commune) have over 20,000 genders!
Exact reports vary, and to be honest I’m not sure exactly how they counted… but this single species of mushroom is reported to have around 23,000 distinct sexes! Even more impressive, almost all of these different genders can reproduce with each other! These mushrooms also happen to be rather pretty, and have a distinctive feature to help recognize them: their namesake “split gills”.
8. Stinkhorns (Phallaceae) attract flies with their foul-smelling slime!
Stinkhorn mushrooms come in about 70 different species, but all of them share a common trait: their slimy, pungent, spore-filled gleba! This disgusting gleba is irresistible to flies, who often land on it in great numbers to feast. As the flies land, their feet get covered in the sticky substance, which means that everywhere they land will now have stinkhorn spores, until the gleba rubs off! The stinkhorns also produce a potent laxative inside the gleba, to ensure that some of the spores the flies are eating don’t travel too far. To sum up: stinkhorns make slime that smells like feces and rotting flesh to attract flies, and then gives them diarrhea once they eat it, to ensure “maximum spore dispersal”. One of nature’s more “unique” methods of reproduction, indeed.
Mushrooms aren’t all disgusting gleba and zombie mind control! For example, take a look at “Just a Little Mushy”, here… he only wants a hug! 🥰 This adorable little guy is an original design by my wife Suzi, and is available as a sticker or on a baby onesie. This is one of her more light-hearted mushroom designs, but they also get a little dangerous and even sexy!
9. Zombie Ant Fungus (Ophiocordyceps unilateralis) takes over the bodies of ants, then grows a mushroom out of their heads!
Truly something out of a science-fiction/horror movie, what this fungus does to ants is nothing short of deeply unsettling. Once exposed to the spore of the fungus, carpenter ants spend a week or so with the fungi multiplying inside of it. After the fungi has taken over enough of the body, it somehow forces the ant to climb a nearby plant to the perfect height for spore dispersal, cling on tight, and die. From here, a mushroom sprouts directly out of the ant’s body/head, ready to disperse the spores of the species and infect more ants!
10. Jack-O-Lantern Mushrooms (Omphalotus) glow in the dark!
Well… they do in just the right situation, or if you have a long-exposure lens! The point is, they’re bioluminescent! About 100 species of different mushrooms actually create their own green light, and that’s pretty freaking impressive! These mushrooms create a compound called oxyluciferin, which is very similar to the compounds created by animals that glow, like fireflies and jellyfish. Some species that bioluminesce are also edible, like Armillaria mellea (honey mushrooms)!
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this little blog, I hope you had some fun and maybe learned something new about mushrooms! I know I just barely scratched the surface with this little blog, so if you have any ideas for my *next* blog about the amazing things that mushrooms can do, I’d love to hear them in the comments below! As always, please feel free to Contact Us with any mushroom related questions, suggestions for blogs, or even ideas for designs you’d like to see from Suzi! Make sure to join our Email list below to stay updated about new blogs, products and sales, and Follow along on our Social Medias which can be found on our LinkTree!