Mushrooms 'Make Wind' to Spread Spores
Marcus Roper and Emilie Dressaire
Laser light illuminates spores spreading from this Amanita muscaria mushrooms. Mushrooms "make their own wind" to spread spores, new research shows.
The rains that have innundated the East Coast this week may have finally stopped, but they left parting gifts that are invading lawns everywhere: mushrooms. If your yard is anything like mine, an alarming and entirely new (to me, anyway) assortment of fungi have sprung up in the past week: mushrooms red, green and orange in the shape of frowny faces and smiley faces, some lumpen masses, some perfect half moons, some warty, some smooth. What's more, these are magic mushrooms. The following photos are almost all of the same species: Fly Amanita, (Amanita muscaria). Explore the portraits I took of these exotic looking, but quite common, mushrooms. And learn a little about some of the largest organisms on Earth. Did I mention they're magic?WATCH VIDEO: How Do Psychedelic Mushrooms Work Their Magic
This fly amanita mushroom (Amanita muscaria) is poisonous
hallucinogenic. It's thought that the mushroom is one of the oldest hallucinogens known to humans. During the Middle Ages, the ancient Norse warriors called Berserkers ate foods that contained the mushroom, which made them fearless and brutal fighters, even if they were completely high. Several tribes in Siberia were found in the early 1700s using the mushroom as an intoxicant. In order to stretch the euphoric effects of the mushroom, and possibly bypass the less savory effects of the mushroom (i.e. vomiting), tribesmen would often drink the urine of men who had taken the drug, since the drug passes through the body unchanged. The mushroom can also be consumed dried, or combined with other liquids.NEWS: Deadliest Mushroom Is Spreading Worldwide
According to "Golden Guide: Hallucinogenic plants," the history of fly amanita could go even further back, thousands of years, to ancient India, where it was used to induce a religious fervor. In fact, fly amanita mushrooms may have been the main ingredient in soma, a ritual drink frequently mentioned in the Hindu religious text, the Rigveda. Soma, whose use has since died out, was made with the juice from the stalks of certain plants. Hindu tradition says the drink and the plant, which is also considered a god, all carry the same name. But fly amanita has long been a strong contender for the real identity of that plant, mainly because of the effects of soma mentioned in Hindu religious texts, and of ceremonial urine drinking.
If I were to sample some fly amanita, either dried, or maybe in a steeped tea, or perhaps in the urine of a helpful assistant, I might experience twitching, trembling or numbness in my arms and legs. I might feel happy, leading to singing and dancing. I might hallucinate colored visions, or see things much larger than they are, according to the "Golden Guide." I might grow violent, then fall into a deep sleep. I might develop strange convictions -- that I'm a newborn, or can fly. I might believe I'm in the presence of God. I might believe I am God.NEWS: Magic Mushrooms Could Treat Depression
Beyond the effects of
, fungi are magical all by themselves. Fungi are not plants; they live in their own kingdom, which includes mushrooms. What sets them apart from plants, and makes them like animals, is a material they have in their cell walls called chitin. Chitin makes up the hard outer shells of insects and other creatures with external skeletons.NEWS: Tasty Mushrooms From Dirty Diapers
The fly amanita is common in the Northern Hemisphere, especially around pine and birch trees. But why do mushrooms and other fungi carpet the ground after it rains? Fungi live in a hidden world, often below the ground, connected by a web of very small filaments called hyphae. Hyphae are so thin that they dry out easily. Since it takes many, many hyphae to come together to create a mushroom, that's easiest when the threads can stay wet for a while.
We only see fungi when hyphae come together and shoot fruits into the light of day as caps, puffballs, mushrooms, ears and other forms. The fungal organisms we can't see can be as small as a square foot, or as large as 30 acres. New research has emerged that suggests hyphae play a role in supporting forests through so-called mycorrhizal links. The fungal filaments act as highways between trees, delivering nutrients from older, stronger trees to saplings, forming a critical web of carbon, nitrogen and water delivery -- a kind of tree communications system. Now that's magic.Find out more about amazing mushrooms!
Many once thought that mushrooms spread by passively dropping their spores, after which the reproductive packets would hopefully get picked up by a gust of wind, and carried thither and yon.
But new research shows mushrooms take a more active role in spreading their seed: They "make wind" to carry their spores about, said UCLA researcher Marcus Roper.
Mushrooms create air flow by allowing their moisture to evaporate. "A mushroom is essentially doing less than nothing to protect its water from evaporating off," Roper told LiveScience.
This evaporation allows them to cool off, as the phase change from liquid water to vapor uses up heat energy. Cold air is more dense than warm air, and has a tendency to flow and spread out, he added. The evaporation also creates water vapor, which is less dense than air. The two forces help carry spores out of the mushroom, and give them a little lift, he said. The lift can carry spores up to 4 inches (10 centimeters) horizontally and vertically, he said.
Mushrooms often live on the forest floor, under logs or in very tight quarters where wind wouldn't be expected to reach, Roper said. The ability to "create wind" helps give spores a better chance at finding a new, moist location to land and begin growing, he added.
Roper and colleague Emilie Dressaire, a professor of experimental fluid mechanics at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., visualized the spread of spores from mushrooms with laser light and a high-speed camera. They combined the imagery with calculations of water loss and temperature readings of mushrooms to show how the fungi create their own air flow, Roper said. They created images of spores issuing forth from a variety of species, including Amanita muscaria mushrooms, a type of hallucinogenic mushroom. [Tales of Magic Mushrooms & Other Hallucinogens]
The study, presented today (Nov. 25) at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics in Pittsburgh, suggests all mushroom-producing fungi may have the ability to spread their spores in this way, Roper said.
Recent work by Anne Pringle, a mycologist at Harvard University, has found that fungi actively spread their spores in other ways, for example by shooting them out at high speeds in rapid succession.
This study by Roper and Dressaire presents another example of how "fungi are actively manipulating their environment," said Pringle, who wasn't involved in the study. "Even though we perceive them to be passive, they are quite active in moving themselves around."
Although the study used laser light to visualize the spread of spores, mushrooms can be seen doing their thing in a natural setting. "If you go in to the woods with a flashlight at night you can see the spores going out in great big clouds," Roper said.
Fungi are the "dark matter of biology," Roper said, and very little is known about them. For example, scientists aren't even sure how many species there are, though estimates range from 600,000 to 6 million species, Pringle said.
Article originally on LiveScience.
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