It was a vile, putrid odor. It seemed to be sourced underneath the house by the back porch.
I called my neighbor, Mark. This action revealed my sexist tendency to call a man when a bad smell needs to be identified or when a crawlspace possibly needs to be entered.
Mark sniffed the air thoughtfully and quickly had an answer, an answer I hadn't expected.
"I bet it's one of those orange mushrooms."
We searched the flowerbeds and found the culprit, a bulbous, traffic-cone-orange thing, barely cresting the leaf mulch. Good Lord, how it reeked.
Through the Internet, I identified the potent fungus as an octopus stinkhorn. I laughed when I discovered that there is a mushroom called the impudent stinkhorn.
My curiosity about stinky mushrooms led me to make the virtual acquaintance of Paul Stamets, a man who deeply and exuberantly believes that mushrooms will save the world. After spending half an hour at his informative website, www.fungi.com, I think Stamets is on to something.
For example, when oyster mushroom spores were injected into barren, petroleum-contaminated soil, a robust crop of fungi emerged. The mushrooms themselves did not contain a trace of petroleum and many of the PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) in the soil had diminished by 95%.
As the mushrooms cycled out of life their decaying bodies attracted insects. Birds arrived to feed on the insects, bringing seeds in their droppings. Plants sprouted and flourished on what been a poisoned wasteland.
This environmental restoration was the masterful work not of the oyster mushrooms alone, but of the fungi that created the mushrooms as its fruiting cycle. Existing unseen, beneath the ground, are the largest living beings on this planet. Mycelium.
A single mycelium organism can cover thousands of acres. The growth rate can be up to two inches per day. It is a builder of humus and a stabilizer of the soil upon which the life of our planet depends.
It is highly responsive and adaptable to its surroundings. As Stamets observes, mycelium is sentient, "leaping up in the aftermath of your footsteps to grab the debris."
I doubt that mycelium could have a more vigorous advocate than Paul Stamets. His ideas on ways to harness this biological force for good are abundant:
-- In collaboration with the Defense Department, Stamets has discovered that an extract from a certain mushroom found only in old growth forests is effective against pox and flu viruses. (An additional incentive to preserve those priceless trees.) A strain of mycelium is being studied for its ability to break down the nearly impervious XV nerve gas.
-- Stamets' system of Mycofiltration is a simple, inexpensive way to protect waterways from pollutants such as effluent from factory farms. Mycelium devours E.coli bacteria.
-- In protecting his house from a siege of carpenter ants, Stamets concocted an effective, safe, mycelium based pesticide also useful against termites and fire ants.
-- Experiments are underway using a salt-water tolerant mushroom to create floating mycelium filtration/containment systems for oil-spill cleanup.
-- Using mycelium, Stamets has generated a fuel, Econol, that is environmentally cleaner than Ethanol.
-- Stamets' company, Fungi Perfecti, is increasing the availability of exotic edible and medicinal mushrooms for the home gardener and for commercial cultivation.
Paul Stamets is an entrepreneur extraordinaire. Products offered through Fungi Perfecti are spreading like mycelium.
You can buy dark chocolate mixed with dried mushrooms! His seminars sell out. He has filed more than twenty patents for mushroom related technologies.
If Stamets' innovations can help heal nature from man's calamitous acts, provide effective medicines, non-toxic pesticides, and a viable energy source, he will have earned his wealth. Listen to him at www.ted.com/talks and you'll realize that what motivates him is not money, but passion and vision. The magic of mushrooms.
Mushrooms are the fruiting aspects of mycelium and countless varieties are edible and cultivated as an agricultural crop. You are probably aware of the p medicinal properties of certain fungi and that avenue is being explored by Stamets in conjuntion with the US Denfense Department Bio Shield Program. Stamets discovered that a mushroom found only in old growth forests effectively combats pox and flu viruses. He is working with the Army testing a mushroom that breaks down nerve gas and other biological war chemicals that have been considered impervious.
Stamets has filed over 20 patents for mushroom related technologies. Ways that mushrooms might hel include