The kingdom of fungi is so vast and varied--it also includes yeasts, molds, and lichen--that early taxonomists labelled one of its branches "Chaos fungorum." One species eats granite; another grows in Antarctica, an inch or so every five hundred years; yet another thrives in a Chilean desert on a diet of fog. Fungal spores are so lightweight and compact that a single bracket fungus can release thirty billion of them a day. The air we breathe is thick with spores.
Given the opportunity of a weakened immune system, some fungi are more than happy to colonize our bodies. In "Mr. Bloomfield's Orchard," published in 2002, the mycologist Nicholas Money recalls seeing "photographs of ink-cap mushrooms growing in a patient's throat, a little bracket-forming basidiomycete in a gentleman's nose, dead babies covered in yeast, vaginal thrush gone wild, and a moldy penis that infected my nightmares for a month." In 1994, he adds, some teen-agers in Wisconsin had to be hospitalized after snorting puffball spores in the hope of hallucinating. The spores promptly lodged in their lungs.
Monday, August 20, 2007
The trouble with lichen
A book I must read, Nicholas Money's Mr. Bloomfield's Orchard, described here by Burkhard Bilger in a piece on mushroom-hunters published last week in the New Yorker (not available online):