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):
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.


  1. Bonus points for title - reference points, I suppose.

  2. Leaving aside some of the, er, fascinating references in your post, did you know that John Wyndham's last (I think) book was called "the Trouble with Lichen"? You must do. I read all his books when a pre-and then a teenager. I can't remember much about TTWL excpet I did not like it as much as some of his others, and it certainly was not as upfront about body parts as Mr Money -- I seem to think that it featured the Tundra, and acopalypse (population crashes), and stuff like that.