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March 17, 2008 | by  | in Opinion |
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Gigantic Ravenous Mushroom

The largest known living organism is a specimen of the fungus Armillaria Ostoyae found in the Malheur National Forest in the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon. While the fungus’s edible ‘honey mushrooms’ are but small things, they spurt up from a massive network of thread-like mycelium which covers over 2,200 acres and is estimated to be at least 2,400 years old.

The mycelium of a fungus absorbs nutrients from the soil by secreting enzymes which break down the food source. Mushroom fruit-bodies then grow from this mycelium, raining spores from their gills to spread the organism further. The parasitic mycelium of the
Armillaria Ostoyae feeds upon and kills the trees in its vicinity, no matter how massive.

But while fungus is feared for its infectious nature, mushrooms remain one of man’s most handy food sources. Besides being high in potassium and vitamin B and low in fat, salt and cholesterol, mushroom protein is superior to most vegetable proteins, making mushrooms an ideal (and cheap) substitute for meat (and even though I love a good steak, it’s expensive stuff).

New Zealand is almost illiterate in terms of culinary mushrooms. Buttons and Portobellos dominate our supermarket shelves, while the most delectable gourmet mushrooms, such as the Chanterelle and the tangy Morel, are available only in dried form from a small Dunedin company, Shadow Gourmet (www.shadowgourmet.co.nz). Our nation’s inability to master the mushroom is partly a result of the need for strict biosecurity restrictions on fresh imports, but perhaps also created by fungus fear. Don’t worry – mushrooms are our friends.

Mushrooms may also be the best way to feed outer-space colonies. They thrive upon condensation and waste, both of which accumulate in space stations and must be either utilized or removed.

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About the Author ()

Tristan Egarr edited in 2008. He threw a chair once.

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