On January 6th, the dream and vision of Living Ground ~ Suelo Vivo was presented to the community here in Southern Ecuador. The intention was to share hope that, together, we could actually enact a solution to the state of affairs we are all facing and enduring. I do feel many of us know what the problem is. Here is a solid “soilution”!
Are we ready?!
A US Foundation (whose intention is global food sovereignty) gifted us with a tractor and a Mighty Mike Microbe Compost turner. A huge gift that enables us to make massive amounts of biologically rich compost. The Foundation’s name is “River of Kindness” So, we have the equipment. Over the past two years, I have been in actively studying and applying experiential knowledge of the teachings of Dr Elaine Ingham (www.soilfoodweb.com). We have the knowledge. We have negotiated a long term lease on land and a potential to purchase two parcels. We have the land. Now, we need the team and the financial means to make this happen. Call me crazy, but I see it all coming together easily.
As I shared in the presentation on January 6th (see video below), I have no intention of “running” a business nor do I wish too. BUT THIS IS IMPORTANT. I would much prefer to walk next to others in this dream as a group. So, I am giving it my best shot to inspire others to collaborate. If it doesn’t work, I just make a lot of compost and share with clients who want to regenerate in a small scale. We are gearing up to do a fundraiser and that will be announced soon.
THE PODS & LEADERS
We need leaders to rise with intention and focus. At the workshop, many did sign up for PODs. This is an amazing opportunity at so many levels. Not only can we regenerate the soils and remove the harmful chemicals and sprays seeping into our food system, we can harvest amazing results at all levels of existance from the smallest of the microbes to the human being. We can reduce farmers/growers input costs; we can reduce water needs; we can increase crop yields; and, my favourite, we can ensure plants have nutritional fullness (human health). This Operation Microbes means everyone wins (profits). It really is a win/win/win!
- have a location that is producing live microbe rich composts, teas and extracts that will be spread locally and beyond.
- have a large greenhouse for medicinal and rare plants
- a market stand and hang out with elixirs, tonics, medicinal spices, herbs and foods.
- we will sell only products produced in microbe soils. Growers can sell their produce all year round.
- we will create a full-blown active soil microscope laboratory.
- we will help growers convert to microbes and away from chemicals
- we will help targeted growers to grow plants for essential oils and purchase their plants to make the essential oils in a distillery.
- we will have a workshop area and train, teach and guide regeneration
- we will help growers produce more and reduces costs.
- we will gain our health and microbiome strength from the foods grown in microbe rich soils.
- we will create art around the microbes and sell T-Shirts and Base Ball Caps with microbe art and “I love shit” (spanish and english).
It will be an education center, hang out, and fully alive business. Everyone will win. Profit sharing is horizontal so everyone benefits.
Can you see it?
Here is a view of the presentation in English and Spanish (and, sorry, it announces this is January 22nd…I really do not know what the date is anymore…it was January 6th).
For the creation of Living Ground, Suelo Vivo, to happen, we need to rise and educate POD leaders. That was the intention of the presentation. There are nine PODS each having equal worth to the bigger whole. All PODS are formed on the foundation of the “good guy” microbes. Whether it be the compost makers, testers (lab techs), growers, artists, gourmet market operators, distillery creators (essential oils) they all connect to the infusion and presence of the microbes. We are mearly the creative force in the “soil food web” rising its’ importance (foundational) so all thrive and benefit.
For more details on the POD descriptions (listed below), view the POD CREATION SHEET
I also encourage everyone and all interested parties to connect on the Living Ground Telegram Channel
The Operations Microbe goal is rise up and inspire 2 POD leaders for each section (preferably one local and one gringo) who will be fully trained and mentored in the creation process. The leaders will be linked together to ensure all teams are working with integrity, empowerment and inspiration. Each leader will be trained in Tools and Art of Sacred Commerce. All training will be offered freely in exchange of the commitment to make this happen.
It is my commitment to offer all training (whether in the operations and understanding of the microbes, soil food web or sacred commerce) to all those who show up. If the team member chooses not to continue with the creation, there will be an agreement made that training costs will be reimbursed. There really does need to be a common vision and a selfless commitment towards this creation. My effort will be given and shared only for those who really do want to put this dream into action.
For those who attended the workshop on January 6th and signed up for the PODS, you have been added to the mailing and communication lists. If you are interested in a POD after watching the presentation video, please contact me EMAIL
We are now preparing to raise the necessary funds for “Operation Microbe” set-up. Here are the PODS…
BREAK DOWN OF THE PODS
|Compost Makers ~ Microbe Makers||Build Microbe Compost, Teas & Extracts.
Two Team Leaders (Gringo/Local)
|Lab Techs ~ Microbe Testers||Laboratory Soil Testing of the Microbes
Two Team Leaders (Gringo/Local)
|Off Site Consultancy to regenerate lands, farms and gardens. .
Two Team Leaders (Gring/Local) and a team of compost workers.
Must be fully trained in understanding the soil tests, compost and applications to regenerate land (including removal of toxins, chemicals and toxins)
|Distiller||One Team Leader with team
Creation of pure essential oils and operations of the stills. Bottlings and labeling
|Onsite Gardener and Grower
|On site part time
Potting of plants and seeds for sale
|TiendaOperation ~ Microbe Sales||Two Team Members (Gringo and Local)
Operations of the Microbe Market that will showcase Microbe products and produce.
Tea/Tapa Bar and making of food and offerings.
|Off Site Microbe Artists||Microbe Creatives
Product makers but the base must be all products are connected to the microbes
|Off Site Microbe Growers||Produce to sell in the Tienda/Market or used for Essential Oil making|
As above, so below! Up, up and away!
Listen to the Music of the Tardigrade (the little bear of the soil)
…The Soil Biology Primer represents a new era in our agency’s soil science contributions to natural resource conservation. In the past we have focused primarily on the chemical and physical properties of soil . This publication highlights another integral component of soil , its biological features. The Primer explains the importance of biological functions for productive and healthy agricultural systems , range lands, and forest lands.
The Soil Biology Primer is intended for farmers, ranchers, agricultural profes sionals, resource specialists , students, teachers, and NRCS conservationists, specialists , and soil scientists as a reference for enhanced understanding of the critical functions performed by soil life. I hope you enjoy reading about the fascinating diversity of soil life under our feet and gain a deeper appreciation of the intrinsic value of soil organisms to sustainable civilizations . Protecting our Nation’s soil for future generations is of greatest importance.
ENJOY click to read, explore, learn, download……
Soil. It’s our greatest treasure.
It can take hundreds of years and many natural processes to make even a centimetre of soil. The mechanical and chemical weathering of rock makes up around half of any soil’s composition, with around 5% supplied by organic material, and the rest made up by air and water.
Put another way, soil is a complicated mix of both the non-organic, abiotic components- minerals, water and air, and the organic biotic components- bacteria, archaea, fungi, plants and invertebrates that live and die within it.
In addition, and bound together with any basic discussion about soil, is the reality of a living soil, the soil food web and soil biodiversity. Soil is a complex, sustainable and dynamic ecosystem, sustained through the complicated interaction of countless soil fauna like worms, woodlice, springtails, nematodes and mites, together with fungi and bacteria.
“Despite all our achievements, we owe our existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains.”
However, within a few generations, we have seen the world’s soils rapidly and increasingly degrade, losing nutrients, carbon and fertility, turning saline or actually blowing away. Crops are losing yield and not responding to NPK fertilisers. Fields and farms are being abandoned across much of the world, forcing even more poverty, suffering and human migration. This degrading is mostly human-driven, due to bad farming practices, pollution, acidification, compaction, deforestation and climate change across the world. It’s a sobering and worrying time. Soil biodiversity is dying, with soil fauna like springtails and soil mites reducing to almost zero. Worms are disappearing, fungal activity ceasing.
Soil scientists and farmers are finally being listened to. People are learning and gaining more knowledge and understanding. Research is now well funded and positive changes are being discussed at a governmental level and implemented on a regional and local level. Sustaining, improving and increasing soils is a lengthy and time consuming process, but no dig, microbe compost making and regenerative agriculture are showing great results. Feeding the soil rather than the plant has become a well known mantra amongst gardeners and organic growers. The ship may be sinking, but all is not lost.
Whoever you are and whoever you will become, tread lightly on the earth.”
In am world that has gone mad with sexual orientation, let me introduce Meosis!
And Haploids..who love working together.
When they reach fusion, dipoilds happens. The process is Plasmogamy!
There is an internet of nature that we are just beginning to understand. It is absolutely amazing and we are just beginning to understand and be able to measure. Together the soil food web and the trees work harmoniously. Here is a video which explains it very well, simply!
Super cool webinar!
Compassion of the work we are doing..and should be doing!
If you are desiring to have a soil test, here is the official testing protocol. You do have to be logged in to see these instructions and verified as a "microbe lover"
Is your favourite fruit about to go extinct?
The deadly disease pathogen Fusarium wilt TR4 (previously referred to as Panama Disease) has been wreaking havoc and ravaging the $25 billion global banana industry – with infected plantations experiencing 100% loss and being quarantined for decades. Colombia has already declared a National State of Emergency, but it may be too late. A flurry of apocalyptic media accounts have followed, revealing a race to save bananas from extinction after the disease has left a trail of scorched banana plantations in its wake.
The world’s most destructive banana disease is spreading, and there are currently no chemicals available to kill the disease. This might be a blessing in disguise as it is highly likely that chemical use has actualy contributed to this problem in the first place.
In August 2021, the Ecuadorian Government has raised the banana disease Fusarium wilt TR4 to pandemic level. “Ecuador’s message to the global banana community is clear: Fusarium is not just a pest; it is a lethal pandemic for bananas that currently has no solution and that threatens one of the most important industries for the Ecuadorian economy.”
Fusarium wilt is a common fungal disease that attacks many types of herbaceous plants, including banana trees. Also known as Panama disease, fusarium wilt of banana is difficult to control and severe infections are often deadly. The disease has decimated crops and has threatened an estimated 80 percent of the world’s banana crop. Read on to learn more about banana fusarium wilt disease, including management and control. Banana Fusarium Wilt Symptoms Fusarium is a soil-borne fungus that enters the banana plant through the roots. As the disease progresses upward through the plant, it clogs the vessels and blocks the flow of water and nutrients. The first visible banana fusarium wilt symptoms are stunted growth, leaf distortion, and yellowing, and wilt along the edges of mature, lower leaves. The leaves gradually collapse and droop from the plant, eventually drying up completely. A good article https://draxe.com/health/banana-fungus/
The good news is there probably is a natural organic solution, simply utilizing the natural defense mechanism of microbes.
Fusarium Wilt is a problem in the soil…a bad guy is taking over! Raise the good guys and let them do their magic!
Bananas As We Know Them Are Doomed VICE News
Disease Is Ravaging the $25 Billion Banana Industry Bloomberg
Why The World’s Most Popular Banana May Go Extinct Business Insider
The world’s bananas are in trouble BBC World Service
Why The Banana Business Of Chiquita And Dole Is At Risk CNBC
Not All Viruses Are Bad For You. Here Are Some That Can Have a Protective Effect
CYNTHIA MATHEW, THE CONVERSATION10 AUGUST 2019
Viruses are mostly known for their aggressive and infectious nature.
It’s true, most viruses have a pathogenic relationship with their hosts – meaning they cause diseases ranging from a mild cold to serious conditions like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). They work by invading the host cell, taking over its cellular machinery and releasing new viral particles that go on to infect more cells and cause illness.
But they’re not all bad. Some viruses can actually kill bacteria, while others can fight against more dangerous viruses. So like protective bacteria (probiotics), we have several protective viruses in our body.
Bacteriophages (or “phages”) are viruses that infect and destroy specific bacteria. They’re found in the mucus membrane lining in the digestive, respiratory and reproductive tracts.
Mucus is a thick, jelly-like material that provides a physical barrier against invading bacteria and protects the underlying cells from being infected. Recent research suggests the phages present in the mucus are part of our natural immune system, protecting the human body from invading bacteria.
Phages have actually been used to treat dysentery, sepsis caused by Staphylococcus aureus, salmonella infections and skin infections for nearly a century. Early sources of phages for therapy included local water bodies, dirt, air, sewage and even body fluids from infected patients. The viruses were isolated from these sources, purified, and then used for treatment.
Phages have attracted renewed interest as we continue to see the rise of drug resistant infections. Recently, a teenager in the United Kingdom was reportedly close to death when phages were successfully used to treat a serious infection that had been resistant to antibiotics.
Nowadays, phages are genetically engineered. Individual strains of phages are tested against target bacteria, and the most effective strains are purified into a potent concentration.
These are stored as either bacteriophage stocks (cocktails), which contain one or more strains of phages and can target a broad range of bacteria, or as Adapted bacteriophages, which target specific bacteria.
Before treatment, a swab is collected from the infected area of the patient, cultured in the lab to identify the bacterial strain, and tested against the therapeutic phage stocks.
Treatment can be safely administered orally, applied directly onto wounds or bacterial lesions, or even spread onto infected surfaces. Clinical trials for intravenous administration of phages are ongoing.
Beneficial viral infections
Viral infections at a young age are important to ensure the proper development of our immune systems. In addition, the immune system is continuously stimulated by systemic viruses at low levels sufficient to develop resistance to other infections.
Some viruses we come across protect humans against infection by other pathogenic viruses.
For example, latent (non-symptomatic) herpes viruses can help human natural killer cells (a specific type of white blood cell) identify cancer cells and cells infected by other pathogenic viruses. They arm the natural killer cells with antigens (a foreign substance that can cause an immune response in the body) that will enable them to identify tumour cells.
This is both a survival tactic by the viruses to last longer within their host, and to get rid of competitive viruses to prevent them from damaging the host. In the future, modified versions of viruses like these could potentially be used to target cancer cells.
Pegivirus C or GBV-C is a virus that does not cause clinical symptoms. Multiple studies have shown HIV patients infected with GBV-C live longer in comparison to patients without it.
The virus slows disease progression by blocking the host receptors required for viral entry into the cell, and promotes the release of virus-detecting interferons and cytokines (proteins produced by white blood cells that activate inflammation and removal of infected cells or pathogens).
In another example, noroviruses were shown to protect the gut of mice when they were given antibiotics. The protective gut bacteria that were killed by the antibiotics made the mice susceptible to gut infections. But in the absence of good bacteria, these noroviruses were able to protect their hosts.
The future of therapeutic viruses
Modern technology has enabled us to understand more about the complexities of the microbial communities that are part of the human body. In addition to good bacteria, we now know there are beneficial viruses present in the gut, skin and even blood.
Our understanding of this viral component is largely in its infancy. But it has huge potential in helping us understand viral infections, and importantly, how to fight the bad ones. It could also shed light on the evolution of the human genome, genetic diseases, and the development of gene therapies.The Conversation
Cynthia Mathew, Research Assistant, University of Canberra.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.
DONATE TO HELP MAKE THE CHANGE
Land degradation is a collective threat for everyone. It is vitally important we make a transition to regenerate our soils which as a primary basis of all life and health. THis is a paradigm shift in our way of thinking and doing. Our mission is to both educate and create bio-complete soils and spread this gold for our collective future. It is about changing our approach (even the organic approach) and entering a new paradigm shift. It is about empowering everyone to thrive, win and benefit. It is about creating compost that rejuvenates soils, educating everyone into this knowledge and creating a system where everyone wins.
* Establish Microbe Compost Creation and Microscope Laboratory
* Consult, Educate and Empower both locals and all food growers.
* Transform neighborhoods here and in Ecuador
* Protect sacred lands and WATER-SHEDS and offering them a solution towards the transformation
* Grow food that is truly nutrient rich and which becomes our medicine.
* Create a reproducible model of sustainability to share our knowledge.
The concept: Beneficial organisms convert and create life, nutrients, energy, health and bountiful ecosystems. Our mission is create rich compost, to teach and educate, assist, convert and inspire conversion to regenerative cultivation This creates abundance for everyone. . Let’s heal the living world together.
We have a natural way forward for Sustainable Agriculture and Human Health blending science and art.
REGENERATIVE ORGANIC stewardship
It’s Time! It’s Necessary!
We are a little team whose backgrounds and heritage merges from all over the world (England, Canada, USA, Ecuador). We come together in this project to make a difference, help our community and expand out into the farms of lands of Ecuador. Our backgrounds are diverse but we all love the land and nature. Our common dream is to change the world for our sakes and the sake the generations to come
The most common conception of corruption is the theft of public money through unscrupulous methods. However, there are many other ways to deceive the public and one of the most notorious is the promotion of industrial chemical agriculture.
Most people in Ecuador, visitors and residents believe that the food is natural and therefore organic. Nothing could be further from the truth. Only 0.3% of the 14 million agricultural hectares are certified organic. That means that those farms have to conform to a rigid process of certification. In the U.S., by the way, the Federal Department of Agriculture allows farmers to use pesticides and still be considered organic.
There are rural campesinos that do not use excessive nitrogen and pesticides, but they are very few and many of them do not follow acceptable practices of not using fresh manure to fertilize plants.
The reality is that almost all farmers, with a few exceptions, are controlled by an industry that has zero interest in the quality or nutritional quantity of the food.
The Big 6 becomes the Big 3
Last year there were the Big 6 and today there are only the Big 3. Bayer bought Monsanto, DOW and DuPont merged and ChemChina bought Syngenta. They combine for about $375 billion in sales in a $450 billion market worldwide of chemical and biological amendments in agriculture.
The concentration of capital is due to over-production and increased competition at a time when farmers are beginning to reject chemicals. India is the best example with the hundreds of suicides due to destroyed families from high costs of the chemicals and lost production. The chemical industry is now switching to biologic products. That may appear to be good but it is not because it follows the same philosophy, but with a different product. I will explain in a minute.
Small farmers are hurt by ag-industry practices too.
The results from the intensive approach from the chemical ag-industry in Ecuador are devastating. They now control the entire university system, so that any agricultural engineer in the country gets almost no training in soil microbiology. There is absolutely no focus on true food nutrition and what used to be a sovereign food system — that is now as foreign as the salchipapas are to the traditional diet.
The excessive use of urea that is freely distributed by the government through the Ministerio de Agricultura Y Ganadería (MAGAP) is the prime reason for toxic watershed system which causes cancer in humans and animals alike and can only be filtered out with active carbons filtering.
The soils are loaded with salts from the excessive use of chemicals and fertilizers which requires the excessive use of irrigation and increasing erosion everywhere. Ecuador has lost between 20 and 40% of the organic material that normally occupies the top 10 inches of soil. The constant tillage to increase production has freed millions of tons of carbon normally sequestered in the soil upon which the bacteria and fungus use for 50% of their diet, not to mention the destruction of the mycorrhiza and bacterial species that have existed or millions of years.
The UN report on Trade and Commerce published in 2013, “Wake Up Before It Is Too Late” pointed out that the largest contributor to global warming and the green-house effect is industrial agriculture which accounts for 71% of all carbon in the atmosphere. In Ecuador, that means increased flooding on the coast and loss of glaciers and the eventual evaporation of the original 235 glacial lakes in the Cajas Mountains, west of Cuenca.
The impact on health
The worst impact is on health. There are over 450 chemicals that make up the more than 9,000 pesticide compounds that have been directly attributed to non-infectious disease and are now in epidemic form. These include 35 cancers of which 3% of occur in children, as well as other childhood diseases including autism, type 1 diabetes. In the general population, allergies, asthma, depression, Parkinson, Alzheimer’s, metabolic syndrome problems, depression, sexual reproduction, etc., are also on the increase.
The average life span in Ecuador is going down, the use of pharmaceutical drugs is going up and farmers under pressure to increase production are using more chemicals.
The proposal from the former president Correa and current vice president Glas to use transgenic (GMO) seeds is nothing more than a continued policy of chemical additives with a punch that will permanently make glyphosate as natural as DDT until the world rejected it.
The only reason to use GMO is to make money for the multinational companies. The effects of the GMO are absolutely astounding and incredibly horrendous to the entire population. The introduction of any seeds will destroy whatever native population that existed before in short order as a result of cross pollination. The seed producers own patents and have the right to take over any production if the seed was not purchased from the manufacturer. Over 80% of all GMO is packaged with glyphosate which means that pregnant women who consume food produced with that GMO seeds will have glyphosate in their blood during and lactating milk which will then be fed to their children.
The combined effect of the intensive chemicals in the agricultural industry and GMO products has literally destroyed any semblance of a healthy population and the source of food for the future, the soil.
Is this not a corrupt industry?
Ag industry bio products
Let me go back to an earlier point: biological products. Let’s start with a simple lesson in plant development.
Plant development depends on photosynthesis, which uses solar energy to combine with carbon from the air to produce simple proteins, carbohydrates and simple sugars within the plant system. About half of these nutrients are used by the plant for growth and metabolic processes but the rest goes to the roots.
In trees, about 85% of nutrients support the roots while in grasses it is about 35%. Why? The plant releases almost 100,000 phytochemicals called exudates to attract microorganisms, bacteria and fungus. The microorganisms live within 1 to 2 cm. of the roots and are attracted to eat the phyto chemicals. The bacteria and fungus secrete an enzyme that breaks down the crystalline structure of soil aggregates of sand, silt and clay to release minerals in soluble form that eventually gets consumed by the plants.
The plant knows what it needs based on which stage of plant development it is in, such as stalk, branch, leaf, flower and fruit development. How many microorganisms does the plant require? More than a hundred thousand different species in the quantity of many millions of each.
The agricultural industry sells about 5 to10 different microorganisms because it is easy to replicate them. The plant needs hundreds of thousands. What is the problem? The large variety of microorganisms facilitate plant stimulation and the immune system against pests. The limited approach of a few falls short.
In addition and more importantly, humans need between 80-90 trace minerals a day and the only way to get them is if the food comes with a rich variety of minerals and that can only happen with an agriculture that is based on rich microbiology. There is no other way. When people refer to their products being agroecological, they interpret natural use of fertilizer as being organic. It is not. True agroecological production is totally based on the scientific application of microorganisms produced from the very same soil location, not from the US to be used in Ecuador. This is why Denver and Canada could not produce quinoa successfully; same altitude and climate but different soil and microorganisms.
Food produced by microbiological methods will have between 40% and 500% more minerals, antioxidants, vitamins and probiotic bacteria. This is why there is a health crisis. There are a lot of people in Tungurahua, Chimborazo and Bolivar provinces who have thyroid problems. The food they used to eat more than a generation ago that was semi organic had 5 times more iodine than the current food and if they do not buy iodized salt, they are going to have metabolic problems with the thyroid. This is one example of many.
The best example of the benefits of eating organic food is Okinawa, Japan where people live far longer lives than the average by consuming a high organic vegetable diet with a little fish and no meat products. That is another story but the key is the consumption of organic vegetables.
On my farm, we produce a very rich microbiome in the compost that we then use to extract the microbiology and spray the gardens and fruit trees. No pests, no worries with higher production yields. I am working with farmers around the country to advance these techniques through teaching and advocacy.
Shelly Caref retired to Ecuador after working as an engineer and mid level manager in the high tech industry for multinational companies. He and his wife, Nelly, discovered that using chemicals in agriculture had direct linkages that caused her illnesses, his daughters breast cancer and his granddaughters type 1 diabetes. He began a five year journey of discovery, investigation and experimentation to fully understand what is “biological agriculture” and why it is the only way to produce food. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org The ebook can be purchased in English at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/648740
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How beneficial microbes in the soil, food and gut are interconnected and how agriculture can contribute to human health
The gut microbiome
A human body consists of about ten times more bacterial cells than human cells, the majority of which are in the gut. The ratio of microbial to human genes is even more impressive, counting more than 3 million microbial genes compared with 22,000 human genes. The gut microbiome starts to develop before birth and becomes fully established 2–3 years into childhood. The formation of the infant microbiome is not only important for gut function, but also crucial for the development of the systemic and mucosal immune system thereby influencing infant and eventually adult health (Lozupone et al, 2012).
… since microbes from fruits, salads and vegetables join the human gut microbiome, the plant microbiome can affect the gut microbiome and thereby human health.
The original view of a simple mutualistic interaction between gut cells and microbial cells has given way to a much more complex and dynamic view of a close symbiotic interaction between humans and bacteria. The intestinal epithelial and mucosal immune cells recognize and interact with select bacterial species which contribute to the proper functioning of the human immune system. Microbially generated metabolites not only help the gut to extract nutrients from food, but can also influence immune function (Postler & Ghosh, 2017). In fact, a dysfunctional gut microbiome has been shown to cause or contribute to various gastrointestinal diseases, inflammatory or immune‐mediated diseases, diabetes, obesity, atopic diseases and chronic kidney diseases (Lozupone et al, 2012). Generally, microbiome richness and diversity are directly associated with human health, but this simple equation needs to be considered with care.
An important step towards our current understanding was the finding that healthy and sick gut microbiomes differ in their microbial composition. Although gut microbiomes contain up to 1,000 different microbial species and show large variations between individuals, 99% of the gut microbiota belongs to only 30–40 species (Lozupone et al, 2012) that change in positive or negative ways in response to external or environmental factors. Novel sequencing techniques now allow the detection and quantification of virtually all gut microbes, but we still know almost nothing about the role and function of many microbial species, let alone the role of viruses that also populate the gut ecosystem.
Changes of the microbiota in historical times
As humans and human civilization changed over millennia so did the human gut microbiota in response to changes in diet. The gut microbiome of contemporary hunter–gatherer societies for instance shows drastic changes during the year reflecting the changes in food supply. Moreover, major differences can also be observed between the microbiota of female and male members of these societies: the microbiota of women resembles more those of herbivores, while the male members have a more carnivore‐like microbiome. The changes in gut microbiota from earlier to modern civilizations also reflect changes in hygiene, which can still be observed between urban and rural communities. Modern lifestyle with improved hygiene, processed food and the widespread use of medicines, notably antibiotics, seems to have had a major effect on human gut microbiome diversity during the past decades, overall reducing its variety.
Importantly, what people eat has a much stronger influence on the gut microbial composition than genetics: members of the same family living in different locations show larger differences in their microbiomes than genetically unrelated individuals who share the same household and similar lifestyle and nutrition.
Microbes enhance food quality and content
Humans can only synthesize 11 of the 20 essential amino acids themselves; they rely on food intake for the other nine along with all 13 essential vitamins. Most of these amino acids and vitamins are retrieved from meat, eggs, milk products, fruits and vegetables, but a few essential compounds are produced by microbes—which are important producers of essential amino acids and vitamins themselves. For example, cobalamin (Vitamin B12) cannot be produced by either plants or animals; it is synthesized by microbes in the plant microbiotas or in the gut of ruminant animals.
In addition to primary metabolites, amino acids and vitamins, many microbes also produce a large variety of chemicals known as secondary metabolites or natural products. Among the best‐known of these compounds are antibiotics but also immunosuppressants, anticancer and anti‐inflammatory drugs.
Yet, plants are at least as capable as microbes in producing secondary metabolites; overall plants synthesize more than hundred thousand compounds, many of which are used as pharmaceuticals or are important for human health. Flavonoids, a highly diverse class of plant compounds that are present in many fruits, vegetables or nuts, have many biological activities including anti‐inflammatory, anticancer and anti‐viral properties. Omega‐3 (n‐3) polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are found in nuts and seeds of twenty different plants, including soy bean, rape seed or flax. PUFA reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, blood pressure and inflammatory reactions. Another class of important plant products are conjugated linoleic acid, L‐carnitine, choline or sphingomyelin, which all positively affect the gut microbiome (Postler & Ghosh, 2017). Interestingly, many plants produce only tiny amounts of these secondary metabolites, but beneficial microbes associated with their plant host can boost their production. The interaction of microbes and plants thereby influences food quality, taste and texture (Flandroy et al, 2018).
Where does our food come from?
Food production has changed tremendously during the past century. Today’s agricultural production systems are mostly large‐scale monocultures of a few elite crop varieties that require fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides to ensure a high yield. Most of these high‐yield breeds have lost important secondary metabolites that protect plants and humans alike. A good example is the domestication of plants of the Brassicacae family, such as cabbage and cauliflower, in which the amount of glucosinolates has been reduced to eliminate their bitter taste. Yet, glucosinolates not only help the plant to resist to pathogens but are also suspected to be a prebiotic anticancer metabolite (Blum et al, 2019).
Modern lifestyle with improved hygiene, processed food and the widespread use of medicines, […] seems to have had a major effect on human gut microbiome diversity during the past decades
Industrial agriculture requires increasing amounts of fertilizers and pesticides to maintain yield. This seems to be the result and/or the cause of a poor microbial diversity in the soil. Soil erosion and climate change also affect microbial biodiversity and contribute to the loss of large areas of arable land and their microbial populations (Blum et al, 2019). In this way, crop plants today lack many of their important symbiotic partners to produce or increase the contents of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other metabolites that are beneficial for both plant and human health.
Soil is the ultimate source from which plants recruit beneficial microbes for the rhizosphere and phyllosphere, that is the root and shoot surfaces, but also for the inner plant organs (endosphere), including fruits and seeds. Plant rhizo‐, phyllo‐ and endosphere microbes not only increase nutrient use efficiency and thereby crop yield, they are also involved in enhancing resistance against herbivores, insects, bacterial and fungal pathogens and even nematodes or viral infections (Blum et al, 2019).
The use of herbicides, excessive mineral fertilization and improper land management have serious effects on microbial communities. A good example is glyphosate that has been used for more than 40 years in agriculture. This chemical inhibits enoylpyruvylshikimate‐5‐phosphate (EPSP) synthase, an enzyme of the shikimate pathway that is responsible for the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids in plants. EPSP synthase is present in all plants but not in humans, which makes glyphosate an ideal herbicide. The application of glyphosate to kill weeds is linked with the use of glyphosate‐resistant crops which has helped considerably to assure high crop yields.
But the use of glyphosate might come with a price. Although the acute toxicity of glyphosate to humans is low, the fact that humans are exposed to it over long terms prompted the WHO to classify glyphosate as a potential carcinogenic in 2015. Importantly, glyphosate is also an antimicrobial, as both bacteria and fungi rely on the shikimate pathway for aromatic amino acid production. A number of reports show negative effects on beneficial soil, rhizosphere and endosphere microbes, including arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and nitrogen‐fixing Rhizobium spp. (Van Bruggen et al, 2018). Glyphosate also seems to inhibit a number of soil, plant and gut beneficial microbes at much lower concentrations than pathogenic microbes. In terms of the human gut microbiome, such inhibition was observed for the beneficial microbes Bifidobacterium sp. and Enterococcus sp. compared with pathogenic strains of Clostridium sp. and Salmonella sp. (Van Bruggen et al, 2018). Overall these indirect effects of glyphosate on soil, plant and human microbes might affect human health.
Food quality beyond fibres, minerals and vitamins
The protein‐rich input from increased meat consumption in Western diets also massively affects the gut microbiome, whereby certain microbes suppress beneficial competitors and change our eating behaviour to favour more unhealthy food. Much of the current discussion on maintaining a diverse and healthy gut microbiome is focused on eating a healthy diet, which is defined by a high content of fibre, minerals and vitamins. However, this still leaves out an important aspect of food.
Most of our daily food comes from industrial agriculture and has been exposed to herbicides, fertilizers and a large array of pesticides to obtain high yields. Pesticides are a large class of chemical compounds that include fungicides, bactericides, nematicides, molluscicides, avicides, rodenticides and animal repellents. A large literature is available to show the negative effects of many commonly used pesticides on human health. For example, various carbamates, pyrethroids and neonicotinides have endocrine‐disrupting activity and negative effects on reproduction in animals and humans (Nicolopoulou‐Stamati et al, 2016). However, many beneficial microbes are also among the targets of pesticides with direct and indirect implications on soil, plant and food safety.
The interaction of microbes and plants thereby influences food quality, taste and texture.
For example, most copper‐based fungicides have a deleterious effect on nitrogen‐fixing bacteria (Meena et al, 2020). Similarly, long‐term application of organomercurials has negative effects on cellulolytic fungal species. Triarimol and captan decrease the content of Aspergillus fungi that help plants to grow and develop. Carbendazim is highly toxic to Trichoderma harzianum, a potent biocontrol agent against the soil‐borne fungal pathogens Fusarium, Pythium and Rhizoctonia and many fungicides also inhibit hyphal growth and root colonization by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. The insecticides chlorpyrifos, phosphamidon, malathion, fenthion, methyl phosphorothioate, parathion, chlorfluazuron, cypermethrin or phoximin have negative effects on soil and rhizosphere microbiota at field‐recommended concentrations (Meena et al, 2020).
Many fresh fruit, salads and vegetables are stored and shipped, often over long distances, before they arrive at the supermarket. Long storage and shipping periods, however, are not possible without treating fruit and vegetables with a variety of pesticides and antibiotics for preservation. Not only will some of these chemicals make their way through food into the human gut, but they also kill off the plant microbiota.
Agriculture uses about four times more antibiotics than human medicine. This massive (ab)use of antibiotics in farming, mostly to enhance growth and health of livestock, has greatly contributed to the emergence of resistant bacteria. Not only do antibiotics excreted by animals change microbial function and composition of soil, waterways and other biotopes but also the antibiotic resistance genes can spread to other microbes via horizontal gene transfer (Jechalke et al, 2014). The consumption of fresh produce from fields fertilized with manure from antibiotics‐treated animals can thus spread resistance genes to the human gut microbiome and further the emergence of multi‐drug‐resistant human pathogens. The widespread application of pesticides and herbicides could similarly increase the risk of new pathogens and diseases against both plants and humans.
… crop plants today lack many of their important symbiotic partners to produce or increase the contents of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other metabolites…
Similarities between root and gut microbiomes
Recent research suggests that the root and gut microbial communities exist under similar conditions (Mendes & Raaijmakers, 2015). Both are open systems characterized by gradients of oxygen, water and pH that create a diversity of different niches. Both systems inherit their microbial members from the environment: food in humans and soil in plants, respectively. Plant and gut systems are populated by a multitude of similar bacterial phyla (Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, Proteobacteria, Actinobacteria) and, similar to human faecal transfer, transplantation of beneficial microbes from disease‐suppressive soils can protect plants against various diseases (Mendes & Raaijmakers, 2015). Research on different mammalian herbivores and carnivores indicates that the gut microbiome recruits some of its members from eating raw plant material. Root and gut microbes synthesize essential amino acids, vitamins and many other secondary metabolites that modulate their host immune system: as such, the plant and gut microbiomes can be considered as meta‐organs with paramount importance for the health of their hosts.
Most of our daily food comes from industrial agriculture and has been exposed to herbicides, fertilizers and a large array of pesticides to obtain high yields.
It is therefore important to better understand the functions and roles of the hundreds of different microbial species in the complex interaction network with their hosts. Of equal importance is the question how to establish and maintain a healthy microbiome. At the same time, the re‐integration of beneficial microbes into agriculture could contribute to providing healthy food in a sustainable manner so as to help reduce the amount of fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides being used (Bender et al, 2016). Moreover, given the food link, humans would also benefit from eating unprocessed organic food since it supplies beneficial microbes along with secondary metabolites. Research on the integral role of microbiomes on their host’s metabolism and health should therefore not stop at the human gut microbiome but expand to the microbiota of plants and their function in plant growth and development. Given the food link, such an effort would benefit both plants and humans.
The work was supported by the baseline fund BAS/1/1062‐01‐01 to HH from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.
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Introduction to Mushrooms and Mycology by Danny Miller, email@example.com
Hunting for mushrooms can be a very rewarding hobby, not just for edibles but for the wide array of colours, shapes and odors that they come in. You might find mushrooms that are bright red, purple, green or almost any colour of the rainbow. They might smell of sweet almonds, black licorice, grape bubble gum or garlic. Almost immediately after beginning to mushroom hunt I was finding fascinating species very easily and wondering “Am I just lucky today or have these always been here and I just haven’t noticed?” This is a common story. The woods are full of the most amazing things that are getting overlooked all the time because we’re so caught up in our own little world. All it takes is a moment to look around to start discovering and being inspired by the fascinating world of fungi.
I regret I cannot demonstrate the odors on this web page.
Learning to Identify
People ask me all the time how to quickly tell which mushroom is which. All of the books describe how important it is to spend a few hours getting a spore print of a gilled mushroom, and carefully comparing dozens of different characters to make sure they all match your mushroom before coming to any conclusions. You might spend all day keying out a mushroom and coming to a tentative conclusion, and then go to hand it to an experienced identifier and from across the room they will tell you what it is. How did they do that? They didn’t have any time to examine the mushroom and determine if the cap was scaly or only fibrillose or if the stem was pruinose or not, and they certainly didn’t take a spore print. This is because the experienced identifier has learned to recognize the mushroom as you learn to recognize your friends and family. When cousin Steve walks up to you, you don’t think “Ah, mid-length black hair, glasses and freckles, age range 40-49, that’s cousin Steve”. You have synthesized everything in your mind about Steve that makes Steve Steve to the point where you can just recognize him. This will eventually happen to you for certain mushrooms. You can probably already identify a store bought Safeway brown button mushroom without thinking about it too much. That does not mean that you shouldn’t take the time to make spore prints and carefully go through mushroom keys. You cannot learn to recognize a mushroom by only reading about it, you have to play with it and look at it carefully while answering questions about it to really get to know it. Just like you didn’t really get to know cousin Steve by looking at his picture in the family album, you got to know him because he came to visit every year for the holidays. So when you ask the identifier how they could tell what the mushroom was, and they say “I’m not sure, it’s hard to explain”, they are not being mean. It’s just as if somebody asked you to describe how to recognize cousin Steve because they need to pick him up at the airport – it would be hard for you to describe Steve in a way that would allow somebody else to pick him out of a crowd.
One of the most important things a mushroom book or website can do is help you tell mushrooms apart from each other. A technical monograph will describe many mushrooms in extreme detail, but that’s not enough. You might have to read several pages of notes on two species and take notice yourself about what the differences are (much might be few). The next step is to realize which of those differences are important and which aren’t. The best criteria are those which are easily noticeable and reliably different between the two mushrooms. I think the most useful part of a guide book is the section that talks about the mushroom and its close lookalikes, like the “Comments” section in Mushrooms Demystified or the “Notes” and “Similar” sections of the MatchMaker program. That is what I have tried to do on these pages – focus on the unique characters of each mushroom that allow you to most quickly tell them apart, and I have placed photos of all the similar species side by side for easy comparison, unlike the typical guide book which often lists them in alphabetical order.
Something that is very important to take note of if you are going to try and identify a mushroom is… did the mushroom sprout out of the ground, or is it growing out of a piece of wood? There are two main ways that mushrooms get nutrition and figuring that out can be an important part of identifying it.
First of all we have to talk about what a mushroom really is. Fungi are organisms that are different from both plants and animals, although we used to think they were a kind of plant (because they are attached to the ground and can’t wander around freely). But it turns out that genetically, fungi are closer to animals than they are to plants – we both have chitin in our cell walls, for instance. The actual fungus grows as a network of threads called mycelium that permeate the ground and can grow for miles, sort of like the roots of a plant but smaller than the width of a human hair. When conditions are right, and the fungus feels it has a good chance at reproducing, it will expend the energy to grow a mushroom (like a fruit or a flower that a plant grows). Because of the vast difference in size between the invisible threads of the fungus itself and its fruit, the mushroom, it almost seems analogous to a tree growing an apple that is the size of the Empire State Building. Unlike plants that sprout flowers and fruit like clockwork every year, not all fungi will grow mushrooms every year. Since the organism is invisibly tiny, you can imagine that it takes a LOT of energy to create a “fruit” that is orders of magnitude more massive than itself, so they are fussy about when they fruit. Nobody understands fully what triggers them. Some mushrooms are only seen to sprout once every ten or twenty years, while others come up reliably several times a year. It has something to do with the temperature and humidity and soil acidity being ideal, but “ideal” is different for different fungi. So you might say that while the millions of species of plants and animals all look different, and you can tell them apart fairly easily, the millions of species of fungi all look almost identical to the naked eye (invisibly small thread networks) but their fruits all look different. So when we study mushrooms, we are studying the different fruiting bodies of different fungi, not the fungus itself. Many fungi never make fruiting bodies big enough to see very well. For instance, the mold Penicillin is just a thin layer of fuzz, and some species are much smaller than that. Most mushroom clubs, mushroom books and mushroom pages like this one are mostly concerned with those fungi that make large fruiting bodies that you are likely to notice (and care about). But there are many more thousands of closely related species that go mostly unnoticed because no part of them ever gets big enough to get your attention.
You will see tiny mushrooms almost all year round (e.g. Mycena) but the larger, fleshier fruit bodies mostly fruit during certain times of the year because they take a lot more energy to produce and perhaps the fungus is being fussier about when to sprout, wanting to make sure the conditions are right.
Some mushrooms are mycorrhizal, meaning that they live in a symbiotic relationship with trees and other plants. Their mycelium actually grows in with the network of tree roots. Remember back in grade school when you learned that plants make their own food using the chlorophyll that makes them green to turn sunlight into sugar? Well, that’s not the whole story. If the tree only ate sugar it would be as unhealthy as you or I living on an all candy diet. It turns out the mushroom’s thin mycelium are very good at getting vitamins and minerals out of the soil, but plant roots are not. So the mushroom takes some of the sugar made by the tree and in return it gives the tree vitamins and minerals and everybody lives a happy life eating a balanced diet. They did an experiment taking the fungi away from some pine saplings, and they got very sickly! Mycorrhizal mushrooms will be mostly found growing out of the ground, although they have been known to have their mycelium grow up and around a log and then grow the mushroom right out of the log, so you can be fooled.
Other mushrooms are saprophytic, meaning they eat and decay dead plant matter like tree trunks, branches, needles and leaves. So not only are mushrooms necessary for the health of trees but if it weren’t for mushrooms, fallen plant debris would not rot. Every forest would have duff so deep you wouldn’t be able to walk through it because you would sink in over your head. Some mushrooms eat the cellulose in the plants (the white squishy part) leaving the brittle brown lignin behind. These are called brown rot fungi. More difficult to do is to digest the lignin and mushrooms are some of the only organisms to evolve enzymes to be able to digest lignin (you cannot – it’s one of many reasons that wood is not considered food). These leave the white squishy cellulose behind, and are called white rot fungi. Many logs will have many different mushrooms living in them, some eating the cellulose and some eating the lignin. Sometimes you can find a piece of a rotted log that is mostly white and squishy or brown and brittle and you can see which type of fungus predominates. One study of a single log in the forest that has been going on for over 20 years has found over 200 mushrooms growing out of it so far… that’s how many different species are living there. But most astonishingly, new ones are still being discovered every year. Saprophytic mushrooms often grow right out of the piece of wood that they are eating, and can be recognized that way, but some saprophytic mushrooms just live off of the nutrients in the soil and grow up in the grass, miles away from the nearest shrub or tree. However, if there are trees nearby, there is no way to tell for sure if your mushroom sprouting out of the ground is a saprophytic or mycorrhizal mushroom.
Saprophytic mushrooms can be mass produced easily and cheaply. They grow on piles of dead things, so if get yourself a pile of dead things and sprinkle spores on it you’ll grow mushrooms. But mycorrhizal mushrooms? They need to be attached to living, sometimes old growth trees, so you can’t grow them in captivity! They have to be hunted in the wild, and that’s why they are so expensive. The health food store is not trying to rip you off because they know you love morels so much more than you love the button mushroom…. it’s because the button mushroom is saprophytic and the morel is mycorrhizal. (Well, mostly, except for the one that popped up mysteriously in your planter that one time, but that’s another story.) Every morel that you see in the store had to be found by somebody walking through the forest. And truffles grow underground, so they’re even harder to find, so the price is going to be that much higher.
The spores don’t just fall off of the mushroom, they are forcibly ejected! The mushroom wants its spores to be flung as far away as possible to spread its “seed”, so it actually launches the spores, something which will only happen when the spores are mature and ready (and their proper colour) and if the mushroom is moist enough. If your attempt to make a spore print doesn’t work it’s not that you did it wrong. It’s that the mushroom is too young (so the spores weren’t ready) or the mushroom was too old (and too dry).
Occasionally mushrooms like some Agaricus have an intermediate spore colour – the spores go from clear to pink to dark chocolate as they age. Looking at a mushroom can fool you as to the spore colour. You have to take a spore print! You might see white gills because there are no coloured spores there yet (but if you left the mushroom in the ground and watched it for a day the gills would later turn brown with spores). You might see pink gills on an Agaricus but the spores have not fully matured yet into the proper dark chocolate colour. But you can’t be fooled by a spore print. Those fake pink spores (or any young spore not fully grown and not the proper colour) will NOT fall off onto the paper! So if it is ejected onto the paper, you have a “real” spore colour. It is also most reliable to measure spores under a microscope from a spore print, not from examining a piece of tissue (especially true of Ascos) because you won’t have any small young spores confusing you and giving the wrong measurements! Squishing a piece of tissue onto a slide may actually break off spores that are not yet their full size and colour and were not yet separated from the mushroom until you came along and crushed it.
As you saw in the instructions, if two mushrooms are in the same genus it’s because they are very closely related. If they are in different genera, but they are in the same family, they are somewhat related. If they are in different classes, you know that they are only distantly related. And if they are in different phyla, you know they are just about as different as any two mushrooms can be. But, as I said, there are only 6 levels of fungi in this classification system. For instance, Hygrocybe and Hygrophorus and Chrysomphalina are all genera in the Hygrophoraceae family. Hygrocybe and Hygrophorus are more closely related to each other (I think), but there’s no way for you to know that. You would need to add a new level, a sub-family (or a super-genus, not to be confused with Wile E. Coyote Super-Genius) to the tree to show that relationship. People have created many different sub-levels to show more detail, but it’s never going to be perfect until you have an infinite number of levels, which just isn’t practical. So this system, like any man-made system, is just a flawed attempt to show at least some of the relationships between mushrooms. You need a picture of a full phylogenetic tree to show the exact relationships between all the mushrooms, but we won’t get into that here.
Another interesting philosophical argument is: What is a species? OK, so you go through the keys and you find the mushroom you have, and you are able to put a name on it. Is that the mushroom species that you have? Maybe not. The field of mycology started out in Europe, where people went around and named all of the mushrooms they found. Then later, in North America, people started going around looking at all the mushrooms here, first of all along the east coast. They noticed that some mushrooms looked the same as the ones in Europe and some were different, so they used the European names for the ones that looked the same over here and made up new names for the new ones. Then they started looking on the west coast and they noticed that some were the same as in Europe, some were the same as on the east coast and some were new. Except that is not necessarily true. The Amanita muscaria out west sure looks like the same one found in Europe for thousands of years, but a closer analysis shows that it just might be genetically different enough to perhaps be a different species. Some mycologists want to call it “Amanita amerimuscaria”. Once a mushroom migrates over here and gets isolated from its original population it will start to evolve and drift from the original European mushroom. Eventually there is enough difference that it becomes a new species. And there may be a lot of changes, but to the human eye it still looks the same, so sometimes you can’t actually tell which species you have without doing DNA analysis. But that’s not the final word either. No two mushrooms are alike, and no two people are alike. How far apart do two mushrooms have to be before they are considered a different species? Believe it or not, there is no generally accepted answer to that question. Some people think that if two organisms can mate with each other and produce viable offspring (that themselves are capable of reproducing) then they are the same species, and if they can’t, then they are not. That is called a “biological species”. However, sometimes it is not possible to test this. Some people say “if the DNA is more than 1% different, let’s call it a different species” but that is arbitrary. Some people say “if we find a whole bunch of mushrooms very much like each other and a second bunch of mushrooms all like each other, but we can’t find any mushrooms that are in between, let’s call them two different species.” But then what happens when you later find a mushroom that’s right in between? You have to change your mind and say “I guess they weren’t separate species after all”. This has happened.
So the current state of affairs is that the DNA work is starting to be done to see if the thousands of mushrooms named in Europe are really the same thing over here. Somebody is going to make a judgment call (there are no right or wrong answers) and if the mushroom is “different enough” they will give the North American mushroom a different name and say that it is a different mushroom, even though to humans, they look the same. For instance, Helvella lacunosa, the fluted elfin saddle just got a new name here in the PNW – Helvella vespertina. It looks the same in Europe as it does here (although some people argue there are tiny differences) but if you find it in Europe you are supposed to call it “Helvella lacunosa” and if you find it in Seattle you are supposed to call it “Helvella vespertina”. Its DNA is different over here. Different enough that somebody thought it deserved a different name. Perhaps the only objective way to answer these questions is to choose the definition of “biological species”, but it takes a long time to do those studies, much longer than it takes to sequence some DNA, so that work is not going to be done anytime soon. Nor can everybody agree that that is how it should be done.
To make things official, every mushroom is supposed to have a “type”, the first mushroom found like it, which you are supposed to keep in a museum. You can say with absolute certainty that the first Helvella lacunosa found in 1783 in Europe is properly called Helvella lacunosa. But what about the millions of other mushrooms just like it that have been found since? Are they also Helvella lacunosa? Now you understand that some people would say yes and some people would say no. The problem is, we didn’t save the original specimens until recently, so there is no original “type” for Helvella lacunosa and many other common mushrooms first named long ago (we didn’t start saving them until more recently, and even if we did save them they’re so old now that you can’t always extract DNA). So you will never be able to prove it one way or another. For all such mushrooms somebody has to go back to the general area where the original one was found, find something as close to it as they possibly can, and declare that one the new “type” (and then remember to save it this time.)
Over the years, as we try and figure out which mushrooms are related to each other, we’ve gotten better and better at figuring that out and we have changed the names of the mushrooms many times to try and express that. Most mushrooms have many synonyms, alternative Latin names you could use for the mushroom, and not everybody agrees on which name is the right one. Some have dozens of possible names! So you will see the same mushroom on these pages called something different by a different book or a different person. The right name will continue to be argued over until we can say with certainty which other mushrooms it is related to and also say with certainty who named it first and therefore has priority.
Many of the guidebooks you will find, such as Mushrooms Demystified, were written a long time ago and DNA studies have shown that mushrooms are not related to each other in the ways we used to think. If David were to rewrite that book now, the chapters would be organized differently (and he just might.) The reason a couple of the chapters are so big is that only the most distinctive mushrooms got their own family (or chapter) back in the day, and everything left over was placed in a miscellaneous family (sometimes called the garbage family). It took years of microscopic and molecular study to figure out the differences between these leftover mushrooms and to create families where each mushroom can rightfully belong. And this work is still ongoing! It will be years before we have the answers. Mushrooms are being renamed and moved around the tree of life every month! We live in interesting times, for it may be true that sooner than we think these questions will be answered once and for all and so we can dream that one day our children will not have to live in a world where mushroom names are being changed all the time.
Now I bet there is one question going through many people’s minds right now… “Who cares?!?”. As humans we love to categorize things, but the level of detail we choose to categorize things to should depend on whether or not declaring two mushrooms the same or different is actually useful somehow. Perhaps it is your job to trace how mushrooms have evolved and study how long it takes an organism to develop significant differences after being introduced to an isolated island. Then you absolutely want to try and figure all of this out. Is one species going extinct but a closely related species thriving and you are trying to figure out what changes are happening in the environment and how it might affect us? Then you also care. But if you just want to learn to recognize and enjoy the beautiful mushrooms around you, maybe you are completely content knowing that you have narrowed the identity of one down to a closely related group of species. What if you just want to eat it? You usually won’t care, but it turns out that the popular edible mushroom Macrolepiota rachodes turned out to be three different species, and the popular honey mushroom Armillaria mellea turned out to be nine different species all hiding in a species complex that looked almost identical. They differ by very little, except that some people are allergic to some of them (and get sick eating them) but not others. Now that somebody did the work of sorting out the minute differences that make up the different species (work which to some I’m sure seemed pointless), these people can figure out reliably which ones they can eat!
One very interesting thing we learned as we started to delve into the true relationships of the mushrooms is that there were some big surprises of mushrooms that looked alike but turned out to be completely unrelated as well as mushrooms that couldn’t look more different that turned out to be closely related. For instance, many puffballs and the little bird’s nest fungi turned out to be related to the store bought Agaricus mushroom. Yet Russula and Lactarius, although looking for all the world like every other gilled mushroom, are not closely related to any other gilled mushroom at all. It turns out that there are only so many ways you can look to be successful in life (if you’re a mushroom). You need to maximize the surface area to volume ratio of your spore-bearing hymenium, which simply means that you need to make as many spores as possible if you hope to reproduce. While more “primitive” mushrooms only make spores on the surface of a piece of wood, eventually more “clever” mushrooms evolved to produce a wrinkled surface instead of a flat surface, in order to have more room to make more spores in and around each of the folds. Eventually, gills evolved, where the face of each gill is coated in spores, much like the pages of a book, producing thousands of times more spores than simply coating a flat surface would. Another strategy is to grow pores, like the boletes and polypores do. They evolved tubes (like a bundle of straws you hold in your hand) where the inside of each tube is coated with millions of spores. A third strategy is to develop spines (also called teeth), kind of like inside-out pores where the surface of each spine can be coated in many, many spores. These three shapes are the most successful for reproducing and they have evolved independently over and over again, seemingly by coincidence, so that we now have mushrooms that look identical but are millions of years apart in evolution. Except now we understand that it isn’t really coincidence – when you get into a harsh environment and are pressured to evolve more spores or go extinct, you find a way to evolve into one of those three shapes. This is called convergent evolution.
The shapes of Gastroid and Truffle-like fungi especially have evolved independently many, many times, as explained on the truffle page.
So that begs the question, what is a gilled mushroom? The answer used to be easy – anything with gills. But as we started to make up the mushroom family tree to accurately represent their relationships to each other we now have mushrooms with gills all over the tree and there is no longer just one branch of the tree with gills. You might choose to define a gilled mushroom as everything related to the store button mushroom Agaricus (technically the Order Agaricales) which was the first mushroom ever named and therefore gets to be the official gilled mushroom. But this means that some mushrooms with gills (like some polypores and Russulas) are not gilled mushrooms, but puffballs and bird’s nests are gilled mushrooms. You can see why this might be controversial.
Edibility is another controversial subject. Mushrooms are very hard to identify and at first, you are not going to get the identity of most mushrooms correct when you use these pages (or any other book or key). And if you eat the mushroom, you might kill yourself. Identifying correctly is very hard to do and can only be done after getting a lot of hands-on experience with a trained teacher. There are many things that can go wrong
- There are over 5,000 mushrooms in the PNW and most books only list a few hundred, so your mushroom is probably not even in your book.
- Different mushrooms can look almost identical and it takes a trained eye to spot the differences.
- Identifying is hard enough in person – via a photograph it’s even harder still.
- Every key and book I know has mistakes in it, including this one, sometimes giving you the wrong information and sometimes having the wrong photograph for a certain species.
- I am always finding mushrooms that grew under odd circumstances and look nothing like they normally do, often looking much like a different mushroom.
- Mushrooms change a lot as they age, and a photograph can only show one at one point in its life cycle.
- Where you live, there may be deadly poisonous mushrooms that don’t grow elsewhere and look like edible mushrooms where your guidebook was written, so the guidebook might not warn you about them.
- Many people are allergic to mushrooms and get sick eating things that others can eat perfectly well. So always try only a small piece of a new confirmed edible species and only eat more of it if you don’t feel sick after an hour or so.
I’m not trying to discourage you from learning. With enough practice you can learn to identify hundreds of different mushrooms from blurry photographs, but it takes years. Go ahead and try and identify all the mushrooms you find, and use the result as the starting point for learning more about that species and how to identify it, but just in case you’re wrong, don’t eat it.
There are a lot of common “rules” floating about that say things like “Do not eat a bolete that turns blue wherever it is touched”, or “poisonous mushrooms are white or have red pores” but none of these rules are true. A rule like this comes about because somebody discovers a poisonous mushroom that turns blue, or is white, or has red pores, so they make a rule saying not to eat mushrooms that have that property. But the truth is, there are probably 99 edible mushrooms that are white or turn blue for every one that is poisonous, so it’s not a very good rule. You might think that at least it’s a good “better safe than sorry” rule, except that there are deadly poisonous mushrooms that don’t look like any of the mushrooms in any of the rules, so you can needlessly avoid hundreds of good edible species and only eat a mushroom that doesn’t follow any of the “bad” rules, and you might still die. So much for rules.
OK, this is the moment you’ve all been waiting for. I am about to tell you the real way to tell if a mushroom is edible or not… are you ready? Here goes… you eat it and then see what happens to you.
Yes, here we are well into the 21st century, and there is still no better way. There may be hundreds of different toxins in different mushrooms, and we don’t even know what they are, so we can’t make a test for them. Sure, whenever a mushroom kills somebody it gets funding, and we learn why. So there is a test for amatoxin, the deadly poison in Amanita phalloides and other mushrooms, but for the vast majority of poisons out there there is no test. So every time you read in a guidebook “edible, edible, poisonous, edible” it’s because some brave person long ago ate them and passed them around to a few of their equally brave (or naively trusting) friends, and wrote down which ones made them sick, and how sick they got. Then, as mushrooms started killing people, we found fewer brave volunteers to try all the unknown and newly discovered mushrooms, which is why in more recent guidebooks describing more recently discovered mushrooms, you’ll see a whole lot of “unknown, don’t know, unknown, no idea”.
I think it is true to say that there are far fewer poisonous mushrooms than we think. If anybody got scared or felt weird when eating a mushroom, nobody else would be brave enough to try it, so a lot of the mushrooms received bad reputations for no good reason. Many “poisonings” were allergic reactions that you or I might not have if we ate it. And if the first person ate it and was fine but the second person ate it and got sick, we wrote “edible, but use caution as some people can’t tolerate it”. But if the first person got sick and the second person was fine we wrote “poisonous but not to everybody”. Same edibility. But it is still true that some mushrooms can kill you, so no matter how few of them are actually poisonous, don’t eat something you can’t ID with 100% accuracy, because you might get unlucky.
Don’t trust what somebody else says unless you personally know their credentials. All the time I see people on the internet post pictures and ask what a mushroom is, and I see other people respond naming it as a species that is edible, and they are wrong. Sometimes they even admit they’re only guessing because they’re only trying to learn themselves and hoping that somebody will tell them if they are right or wrong. They don’t expect the other person to eat it based on their guess. But some people seem to trust a stranger on the internet whom they have never met with their life, and they will eat it. Remember, that is what you are doing, trusting that person whom you’ve never met with your life.
If you hang around with an identifier long enough you’ll notice that they are always finding strange mushrooms in the woods and saying “Hmm, I wonder what that is?” and popping them in their mouth. What is going on? Are they trying to kill themselves? Well, some mushrooms that look alike only differ by taste, so you have to taste them to find out what mushroom you have. As long as you spit them out, barring bacteria and environmental toxins, you’re probably OK. The poisons are long chain proteins usually too large to be absorbed through the mucous membrane of the roof of your mouth – you would have to actually swallow a piece to get poisoned. You might not want to go around chewing the deadly Amanita just on principle. Mycologists have a pretty good idea that their mushroom is not deadly poisonous before they risk a taste, but my point is that you should not be afraid to touch a mushroom. And there is certainly no reason to avert your children’s eyes away from the forest for fear that they see a poison mushroom and it hurt them.
So in summary, if you would like to start eating wild mushrooms, my advice to you is to find an expert who can teach you, in person, just a few of your favourite edibles and their poisonous lookalikes, and then practice with that person until they are confident that you can do it on your own. Since there are no general rules to identify edible mushrooms, you will have to start with a small number of species, non-gilled if you want to be safest (since they are easier to identify and fewer of them are poisonous), and learn all the lookalikes from a real person. Don’t try to do it from any book or publication.
If you are just starting out, you are probably not yet thinking of getting a microscope to look at mushrooms for identification, but eventually you will need to. A macroscopic key can only get you so far. You might notice a number of species are described very similarly on these pages, and are wondering how you can learn to tell them apart. The answer is that you probably can’t without a microscope and more information on what to look for. Subtle differences are not usually reliable, so trying to learn to identify lookalike species by studying their tiny differences is misguided – it really might be either one.
Here is some advice on how to get started with a microscope, when you’re ready. Books will tell you many, many things you can look for under the scope to identify your mushroom, but they won’t tell you how difficult they are to find. You can see most everything you need to see with a good 400 power system. Don’t feel you need to spend the extra money right away for a 1000 power oil lens. You can see the shape and size of spores and measure them to within a micron or two. Don’t expect at first to be able to tell the difference between species whose spore sizes differ by less than that. Most of the time, you will see if the spores are smooth or have some kind of warts, but not always. Telling Basidiomycota from Ascomycota is very easy to do. So is finding odd shaped cystidia.
However, if you are told to look for clamp connections or tell the difference between monomitic and dimitic or trimitic hyphae, do not expect to be able to do that without a very good quality 1000 power lens and a whole lot of practice and patience. The same goes for trying to find the structure of the cap and gills. If you know what you can realistically find as a beginner, you will save yourself from getting frustrated and impatient.
I’d love to be able to answer all of your questions, but the unfortunate fact is that there is so much about mushrooms that we just don’t know. Mycology does not get a lot of funding, and there are not a lot of people working in the field compared to botany, mammalogy and, well, just about every other part of biology except for slime molds. (Even mycologists feel sorry for slime molds in the Kingdom Protista and sometimes study them out of pity). There is just so much we don’t know and are not likely to learn anytime soon, which is unfortunate considering that everything we do know is telling us how crucial fungi are to every part of the life cycle on this planet. The mystery is one reason we find them so fascinating and amateur enthusiasts from mushroom clubs are often able to help professional mycologists in many ways. Not only are they fun to study, but it’s great to know that what you do can make a difference! The field needs all of the assistance it can get.
Don’t feel bad if you have trouble matching a mushroom you find to the pictures on these pages. Individual mushrooms of a species can vary tremendously. Imagine you are an alien that has come to Earth and you say “take me to your leader” so they bring you to President Obama. Now you’re wondering which species he is, so you consult your guidebook to creatures of the Milky Way galaxy, and the picture they have under “human” is a photo of Prince William’s new baby. You would go back to your home planet and swear up and down that you couldn’t possibly have spoken to a human. Read and become familiar with as many references as you can, and make sure to note the variety each individual can demonstrate every time you find a mushroom, and don’t give up.