My partner Neil has always had a thing about fungus. He’s an arborist and therefore regularly encounters all types of it in his day-to-day work. Don’t judge but he likes to show me photos of particularly fine examples of bracket fungi which, while not always good for its hosting tree, often have a fascinating sculptural quality to them.
When I read about the publication of mycologist Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life, I therefore immediately knew it was the book to buy Neil for our swapping of books on Christmas Eve in the spirit of the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod. I didn’t expect to find it fascinating myself: fungi (in my opinion) are not the most obviously appealing among nature’s bag of tricks. They’re basically just mushrooms, right? Beyond that, I tend to think of fungus in terms of infestation and decay, i.e. largely negative associations.
Oh, how wrong I was. Picking up on the snippets of information that Neil has shared with me from his reading so far, my mind is already somewhat blown by this hidden kingdom.
Did you know, for example, that there are more than two million different species of fungi but only 6% of them have been described, or that 90% of all plants depend on fungi for minerals? Or that the mushrooms and brackets that we see are only the fruiting bodies and that fungi largely live out of sight, some in vast underground networks that connect plants via the ‘Wood Wide Web’, providing a means for them to communicate and share resources? More than that, they can solve problems and manipulate animal behaviour, are integral to all life on this planet, including our own species, and are now being linked to ecological wellbeing, sustainable technologies and the alleviation of a number of mental illnesses.
I’m now drumming my fingers impatiently waiting for Neil to finish Entangled Life as he savours it during his evening fireside reading so that I too can begin to learn more about the weird and rather wonderful world of fungi. And that’s not something I ever thought I’d hear myself saying.