What mushrooms can teach us

Fungi sew up problems collectively.

Some kinds sew life and death collectively, in fact. They break down unnecessary problems – leaves, twigs, large trunks of historic shrubs – and turn them into soil so that additional bushes, twigs and leaves can grow. I came here to consider them as intermediaries of reincarnation.

Other forms of fungi, much like the mycorrhizal fungi that Kiers seeks, stitch together the ground. They connect to the roots of plants and spread out underground. In doing so, they also entangle the bushes in a community. I came here to view this underground fungal community as a secret silk street beneath our feet. The vitamins go up this street in the bushes. The carbon goes down to the ground. Without fungi, carbon could not be sequestered in the soil.

Some species of fungi seem to do this exceptionally well. Kiers must seek out these super-sequestrians, decode their genes, make sure the land they’re in is protected.

Merlin Sheldrake, a biologist and author who was also on this expedition, mentioned something that got me thinking. In difficult cases, organisms discover new relationships in an effort to survive and thrive, he said. Mushrooms have helped bushes adapt to so many environmental shocks. Local anthropogenic climate shocks are the most recent. “Catastrophe,” Sheldrake said, “is the melting pot of last relationships.”