Astounding Mushrooms features gorgeous full-color photographs of more than 200 mushroom species in their wild habitat. The close-up images reveal every size of growth, every shade of color, every shadow of silhouette, and every detail of texture. Chapter text sheds light on this unique living species, neither animal nor plant. Concise captions identify the mushrooms and provide further description of their biology.
As Astounding Mushrooms reveals, mushrooms are astonishingly diverse. Shapes include buttons, nests, fans, feet, clubs, hooves, trumpets, mesh, tentacles, stars, tubes, and spines. Textures are smooth, shiny or pimpled. They can be dry or wet, edible or deadly. Nuanced colors and blushes include yellows, reds, blues, and greens. They may be speckled, stinky, slimy, hairy, or fuzzy. Some wear a hat, a "skirt", or can even move.
Wild mushrooms are enjoyed by an increasing number of locavores, vegans and wild food enthusiasts. Chefs everywhere are foraging wild foods, including mushrooms. Mushroom hunting tours have become popular, and mycolophiles are sharing their enthusiasm and identification tips online.
Astounding Mushrooms invites readers into the extraordinary fungi universe.
Alain Bellocq is a mycologist specializing in the study of the Inocybe genre, who trained with Marcel Bon, a mycologist of worldwide reputation. He is president of the Association Mycologique de l'Ouest de la France and secretary of the L'Observatoire Mycologique.
Jaroslav Maly is a mycologist and member of the Czech Mycology Society. He created a mycologist club near Prague in Melnik, where he lives today. His photographs are published regularly in journals and books.
The fungus kingdom includes all organisms that meet the following criteria. They must have a nucleus in each cell (which defines them as eukaryotes), cell walls made of chitin, and a vegetative apparatus (mycelium) composed of a network of microscopic filaments called hyphae. To be considered fungi, organisms must also reproduce by spores and be heterotrophic and absorbotrophic (digest their nutrients outside their cells, then absorb them in the form of small molecules through their cell walls).
Although the number of fungus species is not known, fungi are probably the most numerous living organisms after insects. About 100,000 species of fungi have been described so far worldwide, but the total number in existence is estimated at 1 to 1.5 million. Many new species are being discovered every year, and the task of inventorying them all is far from over.
The mycelium of a fungus usually grows underground, and it grows constantly, to a considerable size and age. The world record is currently held by an Armillaria ostoyae in Oregon, in the United States. This living fungus is over 2,400 years old. Its mycelium weighs around 661 tons (600 tonnes) and covers an area of nearly 3.5 square miles (9 square kilometers)!
In contrast, the sporophore of a fungus lives a much shorter time: scarcely a few hours, in the case of certain coprinoid fungi; sometimes just a few day; and a few years at most for certain polypores, such as the tinder fungus. The sporophore is usually aerial, but in some species, such as truffles, it grows underground. In some cases it is tiny, measuring a few thousandths of an inch at most, but in others, it can reach impressive dimensions. For example, the Giant Puffball can weigh over 22 pounds (10 kg) and exceed 27 inches (70 cm). Mushrooms vary tremendously in appearance, which is why it is always so exciting and amazing to see them grow.
The sole function of the sporophore (the mushroom) is to produce and spread spores, which then germinate and develop into a new, primary mycelium. But whereas in plants, a single seed develops into an entire new plant, in fungi, two primary mycelia must merge to create a secondary mycelium, and only the secondary mycelium can produce new sporophores. Note, however, that some fungi can also propagate vegetatively, a form of asexual reproduction that results in the birth of clones.
Mushrooms can also have medicinal properties, as was already known in prehistoric times - for example, traces of three species of medicinal mushrooms were found in the equipment of √Ėtzi the Iceman, the Neolithic hunter whose naturally mummified body was found frozen in the ice in the Austro-Italian Alps in 1991. Today, more and more research is being done on the medicinal properties of mushrooms, with some promising results.
The use of mushrooms for ritual, spiritual and religious purposes also dates back to the dawn of time. Even now, shamans in some cultures still use hallucinogenic mushrooms, which the Aztecs worshipped as the "flesh of the gods", to enter into the invisible world.
But you don't need to eat magic mushrooms to share in the magic of the mushroom world. In their effort to produce as many spores as possible and spread them as effectively as possible, mushrooms grow in such a variety of sizes, shapes and colors, and have so many different smells and textures, that you can experience their magic with your ordinary senses alone. Simply go outside and walk around with your eyes open for mushrooms large and small. We hope that the beautiful photographs on the following pages will inspire you to do just that!