Where do mushrooms grow? I’d thought that wet decomposing leaves and wood are their niche. So I was quite surprised to see them growing out of bare ground in the Rann of Kutch, and almost completely ignoring the few twigs and leaves nearby. A couple of weeks later, I saw the same varieties at the edge of the Thar desert. The Rann is part of the Thar desert, so the commonality did not surprise me. But seeing mushrooms in that habitat took me aback. I had to take photos.
I know a couple of other dedicated fungivores. This tribe is as uncommon in urban India as wine drinkers were twenty years ago. With this tiny tribe I’m trying to figure out whether we can find edible mushrooms. There is a difference between a wine drinker and a mushroom eater: a wrong choice could kill one, but not the other. So the first step is to document the mushrooms that we see, before we go on to try to find whether they are edible. I think I managed to photograph all the ground-living varieties more than once.
As it turned out, this was also an opportunity to learn something new. Mushrooms, as you may know, are the fruiting bodies of fungi. The body of the fungus is a mass of filaments that lives and grows underground or in dying wood. They are neither plant nor animal, but an entirely different kingdom of life. What I was surprised to learn is that fungi grow in all kinds of enviroments: polar valleys and glaciers, deserts and salt flats (aha, for the Rann and the Thar). All that is required seems to be oxygen. It also turns out that understanding the ecological niches they inhabit is an active area of research. The moment you move out of admiring plants and animals, you hit the boundaries of human knowledge!