This book took me on a breathtaking, life-affirming and inspired journey into the astounding interconnectedness of fungi and the role they play in the world around us. Sheldrake writes with compassionate understanding and vivid prose, and asks questions that shake the core of our self-centred definitions of intelligence, cognition and sensory perception. We need not wish for real magic when we look at what fungi are capable of.
A few tidbits from what I learned: fungi have survived Earth’s five major extinction periods. Wrap your head around that!
Mycelium, the part of fungus that extends into its surroundings, connects fungi to plant and tree roots and other biomass, acting as a communicator, delivery system and life-giving force. It is the essence of the ‘wood wide web.’ In an experiment, mycelium placed on a block of wood extends exploratory hyphae (tips) in all directions until it finds a food source, then redirects all extensions to that one source. It has even been shown to have directional memory. Where is this decision-making process happening? How are the fungi communicating across short and great distances?
Fungi can influence the behaviour of organisms around them. Certain fungi consumed by ants can even control the direction in which they move. And, they can kill viruses that harm the endangered bees’ honeycombs. How? Researchers suspect chemical interventions but are still figuring it out. Even human medication can’t exert that level of specific control.
Lichen, a composite organism that grows from an association between two fungi species, has been taken into space and found to be so hardy that it can survive almost any circumstances including extreme exposure to radiation. Fungi that are able to harvest radioactive particles have flourished in places like Chernobyl.
Experiments are underway to show how fungi can eat and transform plastic waste and used cigarette butts and oil spills. Fungi are now being used by companies to build buildings (!), create packaging material, clothes, shoes… you name it. “Fungi make worlds; they also unmake them.” As Paul Stamets believes – fungi have the potential to save the world.
My absolute favourite book this year.