A mushroom is the reproductive fruit of mycelium (or fungi) which live underground. Mycelium operate as networks that connect and bring life to the surface of land.
There is a natural competition and collaboration between bacteria and mycelium. The ways of mycelium are still largely unknown to us, even though mushrooms have formed a vital part of spiritual growth for shamans in indigenous cultures for thousands of years. There is, of course, much inspiration we can gain from the wisdom and ways of mycelium. This blog provides some inspiration (and itself is inspired by Paul Stammets book ‘Mycelium Running’).
There are more species of fungi, bacteria and protozoa in a handful of soil than there are species of plants and animals in all of Europe. In fact, there are more living organisms living harmoniously together in a handful of soil than there are humans inhabiting our planet.
Mycelium are the builders of soil and the grand recyclers of life – their fine web of cells run through virtually all habitats; unlocking nutrients from one source and in so doing providing food for another. Hence, they steer ecosystems along an evolutionary path, providing resilience and interconnectedness essential for life to burst forth.
In fact, mycelium are a ‘key stone’ species, enriching the soils of our lands from which life on Earth is rooted. Without them, all our land ecosystems would fail. As Paul Stammets says in his excellent bookMycelium Running, ‘With each step in our gardens, we walk upon vast sentient cellular membranes, benefiting our environment far beyond our consumption.’ Having studied mycelium for many years, Paul Stammets believes that mushrooms have an innate wisdom which they use to act as ‘environmental guardians’ benefiting the whole ecosystems within which they live.
Perhaps they hold insights for us in our transformational journey on Earth.
Interlacing mosaics of mycelium infuse habitats with information-sharing membranes ‘the neurological networks of nature’. These networks are aware, react to changes in the environment and collectively have the long term health of the host environment in mind. They stay in constant molecular communication with the environment responding to environmental challenges with diverse chemical reactions.
The oldest and largest living species on the planet is, of course, a mushroom mat (found in North America thousands of years and thousands of acres wide).
Mushrooms have an interesting history, as originators of life on land. Over billions of years ago mycelium came to land from the sea chomping on minerals and rock and in turn providing nutrients for plants to grow and ecosystems to flourish. They formed symbiotic partnerships plants enabling plants to inhabit land some 700 million years ago. It is understood that animals actually evolved from mushrooms by evolving skins and stomachs about 650 million years ago. After each cataclysmic event (meteor hits) where upon the vast majority of life perished, mycelium were the first to bring back life on land through their ability to encourage the right environment for a rich diversity of life to flourish from the soils they inhabit. They have steered evolution and the path of life on Earth by favouring some species over others and therefore ensuring the success of those species. Sensing and responding to their environment by sharing information across its wide, interconnected network in the soil, it ensures resilience through its partnerships with other species, adapting and evolving to ever-changing environments.
Mathematicians have now proven that mycelium networks in soil mirror computer models of dark matter networks in the universe as well as being identical to the nodal structures that make our human-invented internet such a resilient network. It would seem nature designed its own internet in soil many millions of years before us humans. In fact our human brains have the same neurological pathways and class of neurotransmitters that our brains do (humans having inherited them from fungi many millions of years ago).
Perhaps there is a consciousness at work here, beneath our feet, which we are currently unaware of? In fact, scientists have now proven through experiments that mycelium do have a collective intelligence (either though they have no brain – at least not one that resembles our human brain). Experiments using food on mazes with moulds have shown how mycelium learn the shortest routes through mazes to the food and then can remember the shortest routes when re-introduced to the mazes. Whilst this form of intelligence may be beyond our minds to comprehend, fungi networks in the soil have intelligence (and perhaps innate wisdom).
Mycelium are the great ‘connectors’ of nature. Just like our internet connects different parts of society, mycelium use their immense network to connect life through soil and roots. This network enables trees and planets to germinate, sprout and gorw in conditions that would otherwise be inhospitable for growth. The mycelium take nutrients from the rich and strong, giving to the weak and emerging, in so doing help ensure a balanced, diverse ecosystem flourishes where each and all benefit from ths interplay of life. Mushrooms are natures natural internet – we would be wise to look beneath our feet for wisdom and answers to our challenges ahead.