mushroom power

We make up stories to help us understand the world around us.

We are part of nature. But if we are to keep our human identities we need to see ourselves as apart from nonhuman life.   In the case of werewolves, what is supposed to be separate - animal and human nature - becomes hybridized.  Animals, especially mammals, are sufficiently like us for this strange idea to be plausible. A human - plant hybrid is harder to imagine, weirder.

Shriek: An Afterword by Jeff VanderMeer is a highly recommended book if, like me,  you like sci fi / fantasy / horror genres.

Nature grows around us, upon us and within us in the form of microbes, bacteria and funghi. In this book, funghi are depicted as scary, malevolent and sinister.

A long time ago a city was razed to the ground and its people massacred. The city of Ambergris was built over the ruins. The survivors of the original city, the Gray Caps, were driven underground. Some people believe that they are in the process of reclaiming the city, using fungal spores and fruiting bodies to control the minds of the human inhabitants and forcing them to do their will. Others deny this as weird, crazy and impossible fantasy. 

Historian Duncan Shriek is driven to explore the underground territory of the Gray Caps.  In the process he is changed, transformed.

' The paleness that had taken over his features had blanched away any expression, any life, in his limbs, in his movements ... Beard like the tendrils of finely threaded spores ... Clothes stained everywhere with spores, reduced to a fine, metallic dust that glittered blackly all around him... trailed tiny obsidian mushrooms, trembling off of him at every turn ... Eyes embedded with black flecks, staring at some nameless vision just beyond me ...  A dark green smell brought from deep underground. A subtle interweaving of minerals and flesh and fungus... The smell of lichen and moss ...flesh penetrated by fungus ... every pore cross-pollinated, supersaturated ... the flesh alive and prickly.'

In the real world, funghi are everywhere and scientists are learning more and more about them. I have often noticed a network of fine white threads growing on the roots of plants. They are mycorrhizae. They benefit plants by taking in water and minerals from the soil and sharing these nutrients with the plants on which they grow. These mycorrhizae networks can be vast, linking vast forests of trees of different species.

A scientist called Ren Sen Zeng at South China Agricultural College believes that the mycorrhizae also enable communication between plants, calling them the 'internet of plant communities'.  It's still a theory unproven outside the lab, but maybe the story of Ambergris is not as fanciful as it seems. Certainly after reading this book, getting a fungal infection will never be the same again.

This mycorrhiza includes a fungus in the genus Amanita (Wikipedia)


  1. Reminds me of the book The Secret Power of Plants. Fascinating.

  2. Your excerpt has me wanting more! I will look for this book as it is the genre I read and sounds so good! I want to know what happened to him!

  3. I have made a note of the book as I am a great fan of those genres. Fits right in with my view of fungi as a weird mysterious life form with a giant brain lurking underground!

  4. What does Jeff VanderMeer have against fungi anyway? Was his pregnant mother frightened by a mushroom? Fungi are cute and friendly and fascinating. Except Black Spot, which is just evil. Oh, and Powdery Mildew which clearly has psychopathic tendencies. And I'm not fond of Tinea... mm, maybe he's onto something.

  5. Might you one day post about bush tucker for us? More the veg than the bugs for my plate please?

  6. Hi Philip, yes I must re-read that book - is truth stranger than fiction????

    dear Tina, I specially didn't want to give the plot away - so you'll have to read the book if you want to know more! (It's a fabulous read)

    Dear eg, this book fits with all our weird and wonderful views about mushrooms - do you like to eat them I wonder or do you think it is not worth taking the risk???

    Dear Diana, I read that post for the first time - the horror was real for you! So pleased and relieved the Ungardener recovered from the ordeal ... I have started thinking about a post about bush tucker - I once ate a barbecued grub, tasted like sweet corn. But Ok, i will resist the urge to write about that and focus on fruit and veg not bugs.

    Dear Lyn, thanks for the comment, gave me a good chuckle, you've obviously got the same weird / horror mindset like me and the other commenters above.

    cheers, and take care, especially in the presence of you-know-what,

  7. The last paragraph remind me of one of the scene in avatar movie where one of the plants can communicate.

  8. Fungi, fungal infection, would you like to see my feet? Book sounds good but honestly if you haven't yet found Peter James you must do so now.

  9. Hi Diana, I haven't got round to seeing that movie yet but I'm sure I'll love it.

    dear Alastair, I hadn't heard of Peter James but I googled him and his books do sounds deliciously sinister and bloody. I'll check it out next time i'm in the library. Thanks for the tip - if I get nightmares after reading PJ can I blame you????????

    cheers, catmint

  10. I am not sure that I agree that we (you, I and the rest of the humans on earth) are still part of nature because industry and technology have distanced us considerably. Of course, we started out being an intrinsic part of nature and that’s when we also live in harmony with it. Now, we are too busy destroying, manipulating and controlling it.

    Wow, that sounds rather morbid but it’s how I see things, so please forgive my negative spin on your rather lighthearted post.


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