We live in one of the most fungally rich regions in the United States. Oregon has the largest single living organism on Earth in the Malheur National forest. It’s a fungus known by several names: Armillaria, scientifically; Honey Mushroom commonly; or, locally, as the Humongous Fungus. By 2015 it was three square miles large and a few thousand years old. It lives in the soil and spreads its filaments outward so that it grows one to three feet each year. It’s also killing the forest.
Or is it simply performing its natural function of recycling the trees back into the soil, but on a longer time scale than most humans are capable of understanding? Questions like these underpin the field of Mycology, the branch of biology that studies fungi, one of the least understood branches of life on Earth. Several recent books delve into this field from both the highly specialized scientific perspective as well as that of radical DIYers. Entangled Life, by Merlin Sheldrake, is a highly readable account of the author’s love for mushrooms and fungi as well as a tour through current trends in mycology to examine just how little we understand about these organisms. Similarly, Doug Bierend’s In Search of Mycotopia shows us the possibilities of fungal and microbial life. Both authors are trained experts and believe that understanding the fungus among us can radically alter how we experience our own lives as well as the world around us.
Peter McCoy is the current emperor of the citizen mycological science movement. In 2016, McCoy published Radical Mycology, his magnum opus, making this specialized discipline of science accessible for lay-people. It first started as a zine back in 2009 in Portland, OR, yet quickly launched a movement. In 2011 the first Radical Mycology Convergence occurred, drawing amatuer enthusiasts and trained scientists alike from all over the world.
For something so small, yet also potentially massive, fungus often evokes strong responses in humans. They repel us, intrigue us, kill us, and also enchant us with their beauty. The Ultimate Guide to Mushrooms showcases that beauty with lush illustrations and tasty recipes, while Fungipedia shares a collection of the lore and legends surrounding fungi. The Beauty, a science fiction novel, leaves readers awed by the uncanny transformative powers of fungi (literally), while Mexican Gothic expands our sense of dread and horror.
There’s no doubt that mushrooms are having a moment culturally and scientifically. This list will help you find the titles mentioned here as well as numerous others on identification, cultivation, use, and mind-altering possibilities. However, please do not ingest mushrooms or other fungi you cannot positively identify, as many species are toxic and deadly to humans. In addition to the books listed here, you can also visit the Puget Sound Mycological Society’s website for numerous resources.
~ Posted by Veronica H.