The Giant Fungus Among Us
Some say you can eat it, but no way
No, that’s not a tin of delicious, hot biscuits just pulled from the oven. It’s a giant cluster of mushroom caps growing in Carol Humphries’ yard. It’s called a giant polyphore and it must be having an excellent year, because I’ve been getting lots of photos of it. I even have one growing in my front yard on the stump of a maple I cut down. Ordinarily, I’d run over a mushroom with my lawn mower without a second thought, but this one looked so cool, I decided to let it grow and see what happened.
A giant polyphore mushroom is called giant for a reason. It gets big – a foot or two across. It consists of a roughly circular clusters of mushroom caps a couple of inches across arranged in interlocking stacks. If you dig it up, a giant polyphore can weigh a couple of pounds.
Why is it there? Most polyphores live by consuming dead wood in the soil – either trunks or roots. My guess is that’s what Carol’s and mine are doing, as they’re growing in the middle of the lawn. Other polyphores are parasites and grow on living trees, particularly oaks. They usually don’t kill their hosts right away, as that would remove a food source, but they do weaken them.
Once you discover a polyphore, you can dig it up and throw it away if it disgusts you. But that won’t stop it from showing up again. Mushrooms – the only visible, above-ground part of the fungus – are its “flowers.” They rise to distribute spores to spread the fungus. Removing them doesn’t rid the soil of the organism. It only moves on when there is no more wood in the soil to eat. You can’t kill it with chemicals either.
WATCH: Grumpy's Field Guide to Mushrooms
Here’s the kicker. In researching polyphore mushrooms, I discovered many articles claiming that they’re edible, complete with recipes. The trouble is that there are lots of different kinds that look just alike. And if you eat the wrong kind, you’ll destroy your liver and die.
No, thanks. I have too many millions of lives to enrich beforehand. And my death would make you sad.
Instead, tonight I’ll have a frozen burger layered with onion slices, pickles, and mushrooms from a can. Living the high life again.