Mushroom of Immortality

Mushroom of Immortality

This is the Ling Chi, aka Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) and the mushroom of immortality. I was hoping to find it on this journey! This decomposer of living hardwoods is literally found all over the planet, from Canada to Argentina and Europe to Siberia, China, India, Australia and Africa. It’s rare in Western US, but pretty common here in the Southeast (I found this one in Georgia),

It’s been used for centuries to increase vitality and promote longevity and it’s also used to treat cancer.

I think of mushrooms as a bridge. They are essential to plants in the acquisition of water and minerals, and the mushroom mycelium (the network of fungal threads that make up the vast majority of the organism) connects to the much larger plant roots and extends their surface area by up to 50x. Plants feed the fungi carbohydrates and the fungi offer water and minerals and… well… that’s where it gets really interesting. 

First, let’s consider that fungi predate all terrestrial plants. In fact, fungi provided the means by which plants were able to exist on land. Today, 95% of all plant species have a symbiotic relationship with fungi.

So, fungi are ancient. They drink in the landscape… the soil, water and living tissues of plants and animals. They carry that material/information across root zones to connect multiple plants, even different species. Plants will use the mycelial network (the WoodWide Web) to communicate with other plants, to share nutrients, and even to spread toxins. Fungi increase plant drought tolerance, disease resistance and even resistance to herbivores. 

The largest organism on Earth is a fungus, a honey mushroom in Oregon that weighs close a million pounds, covers 2400 acres and may be over 8,000 years old. Honey mushrooms, like the Ling Chi, are also parasitic. But… we often think of parasites as a bad thing that degrades and eventually kills the host, and that’s too simplistic. Many fungi are flexible and may support and degrade their host within a spectrum of effects depending on the condition of the host. Healthy trees stay healthy. Weakened trees are further degraded and more quickly are recycled into new life. The beauty of this is easily seen in the health of a natural forest in which plants are in all stages of growth and decomposition.

It’s so easy to not see the forest for the trees. And it’s easy to miss the mycelium for the forest. Who is most ancient and most “in charge" of the forest? Fungi. The one who bridges the soil and biota, encourages life and decomposition and renewal.

And all of that gets compressed and presented in the form of mushrooms, the “fruit" of the mycelial organism. What information is shared, then, when a mushroom is consumed? It is a story both ancient and encompassing, within our grasp and yet beyond our understanding.

With gratitude, I receive the mushroom of immortality. I will drink a tea made from it today and reflect upon the journey of humanity… we tail-less apes who left the trees not so long ago, became the predator of predators, dominated the landscape, voraciously consumed energy in all its forms, and now alter genetic codes and seek to become gods in creating new (artificial) life.

I wonder what the Ling Chi has to say about that…  

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