When you hear the word “fungi” you probably think “mushrooms.” Yet it also includes molds, yeasts, and toadstools – any number of spore-producing organisms that feed on organic matter of which there are approximately 1.5 million different species. They are decomposers. And no matter your opinion about them (mushrooms in particular!), fungi are the foundation of life on Earth. Without fungi, dead plant life would choke the planet.
Yet the genius of fungi runs far deeper than just that of decomposer. To begin, the trees in forest communicate using an intricate underground network of fine fungus threads called mycelium. Underneath every footstep there are trillions of these threads connecting the trees. Some experts call this the wood wide web (more on this in another post). In addition, studies have shown that mushrooms could help clean up oil spills. They are used as wastewater filtration systems, as a pesticide, and to aid reforestation. Perhaps one day they will also be the main ingredient in biofuels because they grow rapidly and require far less soil and resources than other crops. In the medical field, the antibacterial and antiviral compounds in mushrooms are used to cure diseases and as an immune system booster. Not only that, fungi can help regenerated nerves and have shown great promise in activating neural pathways in people with dementia.
Oh yes, you can also eat them if you so choose (of course paying attention to the toxic ones you shouldn’t eat). Or use yeast to make baked goods. Love ‘em or not, fungi are important to the overall health of the planet as well as humans.
This post was inspired by the 2019 documentary, Fantastic Fungi. I highly recommend it!