Hidden world

Monsoon can bring out hidden life in the garden, as I discovered on a walk this weekend. A beginning like this year’s is not routine, but not uncommon either: a couple of days of hard rain followed by a few days of sunshine. On a tree-stump that I have inspected at such times for several years now, I found the familiar bracket mushrooms sprouting (featured photo). Through the next few weeks they will grow into amazing dinner-plate sized bodies. Are they edible? I’ve seen this variety in forests near villages and they are not harvested by locals. In the absence of evidence, I have been cautious and not tried to eat them.

Further on, I found a treasure of a tree which I hadn’t noticed before. Its branches have sprouted mushrooms in this week. The fruiting bodies of mushrooms that we see, and sometimes love to eat, are just the tip of an ecological iceberg. Beneath it all is 90% of the lifecycle, the wonderful web called the mycelium. When they intermingle with the roots of trees, they seem to be symbiotic, exchanging nutrients and signaling molecules with the host. And sometimes they seem to provide a means of communication between plants, even those of different species (A BBC article colourfully names this a wood wide web). It is also possible that the webs of these hidden mycelia determine whether or not a forest supports an invading species of tree.

But these mushrooms that I see on this branch are not the soil growing mushrooms associated with trees which are the staple of forests. Are they among the edible mushrooms native to India which are slowly being identified and marketed? I wish I knew. The wonderful umami taste of mushrooms is widely recognized, and I do not mind adding a couple of new flavours to my food. I was not very surprised to find that they are called ‘vegetarian mutton’ in parts of India as widely separated as Maharashtra and Jharkhand. On this one branch of this single tree, I found three varieties of mushrooms sprouting. Does that mean that the tree is dead, and its decay is being hastened by these saprophytic fungi? Or are these the so-called endophytes, which are symbiotic with the tree? I’m afraid it will take an expert to tell.

Looking at these photos and wondering about them led me to documentary films and other information on a wonderful world which I did not know much about. Apart from these ecological connections, there are new horizons of different kinds. An interesting article told me about the possible industrial uses of the mycelium; among others, that mats of mycelia are being marketed as a alternative to styrofoam in packaging! The next time I inhale the wonderful earthy aroma of cooking mushroom, it will not be just the omelette I’ll be thinking about.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

16 comments

  1. You have a lot more variety growing. I have seen the dinner plate thing in some Woodlands around me. I have been thinking of growing mushrooms, this reminded me again, let’s see 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A very interesting approach I.J. – we too have the mushrooms you featured in your first image and they do grow to be very huge. I wouldn’t not eat them although I have no idea if they are edible. Interesting that the trees and mushrooms may be symbiotic. There is so much about nature we don’t know!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very interesting and well-written post. Mushrooms are fascinating. I rarely see them here. Thank you for the SA and BBC links. Thank you for reminding me to go back and read SA more often.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Fascinating information about mushrooms, IJ. Like you, I’m reluctant to eat the varieties I see on our walks. There are certainly far more variations than I ever realized—once I started paying attention to them. I just read about a woman who created an entire photographic exhibit about mushrooms!! Um…food for thought. (Excuse the pun.)

    Liked by 1 person

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