Slime Molds: You Are Weird but You Probably Know That

Trichia decipiens. Photo: National Parks Service.

You really should join your local mycological society. How else could you have your mind blown by an entire evening devoted to slime molds?

Such was the case last night when Kelly and I found ourselves entranced by a riveting Los Angeles Mycological Society Zoom lecture exploring the little known world of this odd, tiny organism. You too can and should watch the lecture by mushroom ethusiast and slime mold nerd Leah Bendlin.

Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa var. poroides. Photo: National Parks Service.

Yes this was a mycological Society lecture but slime molds are no longer lumped in with fungi. While they both produce spores, slime molds have membranes made of cellulose as opposed to fungi, which are made from chitin. Slime molds belong to the Kingdom Protista, a weird and diverse branch of the life tree that also includes seaweed and amoeba.

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Slime molds have never had their 15 minutes of fame and, as a result, few except “dog vomit” slime molds have popular names. The rest are the obsession of highly specialized academics who own microscopes. This is a shame as Leah Bendlin’s talk showed a mind bending set of ravishing images. She also has a “slime mold Sunday” feature on her Instagram @leah_mycelia.

Put plainly, slime molds are just super cool to look at even if you’ll never master the details of their taxonomy and their outre life cycle. They can, apparently, even solve mazes. You can find them on all continents and they pop up even in dry places such as where we live. A dog vomit variety regularly appears in a crack on our front stairs.

Many thanks to friend of the blog Aaron who encouraged me to rejoin the Los Angeles Mycological society and runs the awesome LA Mycological society book club!

Of Mushrooms and Capitalist Ruins

You really should join your local mycological society especially now that fungi are finally getting much overdue attention in the academy and popular culture. The Los Angeles Mycological Society has a book club overseen by Aaron Thompson that’s explored both the biology and our complex social relationship to fungi. The last book we read was one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins.

The book begins with the stories of matsutake pickers in the Pacific Northwest, a heterogeneous group of recent Southeast Asian immigrants, middle class Japanese Americans and white survivalists. Beginning with the pickers and middlemen, she traces the long supply chain of this extraordinarily expensive mushroom, that’s given as a gift in Japan, and shows how these cultures interact with their histories and the environment.

The strength of this book is that Tsing doesn’t shy away from complexity and contradiction. She doesn’t try to tie everything into a tidy narrative. What emerges from this story of matsutake is not a neat timeline but an assemblage, a messy collision of cultures, biology and economics. Tsing’s ethonograpic mosaic mirrors the biology of the fungal world which is itself a bundle of contractions, at times symbiotic at other times parasitic with a complexity that we’ll never be able to fully grasp.

Matsutake, it turns out, thrives in forests disturbed by human activity. Like Kat Anderson’s masterful Tending the Wild, Tsing’s book shows the mistake of considering “nature” outside the presence of human beings. The matsutake economy, it turns out, is just about the perfect story with which to consider the neo-liberal and precarious ruin we find ourselves in. Tsing says,

Without stories of progress, the world has become a terrifying place. The ruin glares at us with the horror of its abandonment. It’s not easy to know how to make a life, much less avert planetary destruction. Luckily there is still company, human and not human. we can still explore the overgrown verges of our blasted landscapes–the edges of capitalist discipline, scalability, and abandoned resource plantations. We can still catch the scent of the latent commons–and the elusive autumn aroma.

Following the matsutake’s long mycelium threads, wherever they lead us, might just be what we need to do right now.

077 Radical Mycology

peter-mccoysmall

Our guest this week is Peter McCoy. Peter is a self-taught mycologist with 15 years of accumulated study and experience, Peter is an original founder of Radical Mycology, a grassroots organization and movement that teaches the skills needed to work with mushrooms and other fungi for personal, societal, and ecological resilience. Peter is the lead cultivation expert for the Amazon Mycorenewal Project and Open Source Ecology and the primary author behind Radical Mycology, a nearly 700-page book on accessible mycology and mushroom cultivation. During the podcast we discuss:

  • What are fungi?
  • How to cultivate edible and medicinal mushrooms
  • How to establish a mushroom bed in your garden
  • Tempeh
  • Peter’s cultivation how-to videos
  • Growing mushrooms in an apartment
  • Easy to grow mushroom: King Stropharia
  • Source for spawn: Field and Forest
  • Plugs
  • Improving soil with fungi
  • Remediating soil
  • Peter’s new book Radical Mycology

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Stinkhorn NSFW!

Proof that the mind of Gaia has a crude sense of humor–something along the lines of, “Let’s find another design context for that dog reproductive appendage, only this time we’ll make it slimy and smell like carrion.” I guess you gotta do whatever it takes to get those spores around even if it means pandering to blow flies. 

Extra points to the mycologist out there who pins down the scientific name of this fly attractin’ stinkhorn mushroom. Comments!

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