Strange Mushrooms and Fungi Facts

Strange Fungi Facts (Not Only Fly Agarics)


by Michael McBain, previous Fungimap Webmaster

  1. The Death Cap, Amanita phalloides is responsible for 90% of deaths caused by fungus poisoning world-wide.

  2. There are at least ten times as many fungi as vascular plants, and this means at least 250,000 for Australia, of which we probably know fewer than 5%. [from Grgurinovic, C.A. (1997) Larger Fungi of South Australia]

  3. The Vegetable Caterpillar, Cordyceps sp., reproduces by its spores germinating in the body of a caterpillar, which is then completely replaced by the growing fungus.

  4. Yeasts, used in making beer and bread, are a kind of fungus.

  5. The rare Long-footed Potoroo is known to eat several species of underground fungi in southern Australia and is thought to be an important vector for dispersal of the spores of native truffles.

  6. The stinkhorns and related species, such as Fungimap target species Aseroë rubra and Anthurus archeri, give off a powerful smell of rotting meat, attracting flies which then disperse the spores.

  7. African termites actually cultivate a species of fungus, Termitomyces.

  8. Reindeer go crazy for fly agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria), which the Lapp people traditionally used for its hallucinogenic effects. Lapp shamans used to eat the mushroom during the midwinter pagan ceremonies of Annual Renewal. The first effect of eating it was a deep coma-like slumber. When the shamans woke the drug stimulated their muscular systems, so that a small effort produced spectacular results – the intoxicated person perhaps making a gigantic leap to clear the smallest obstacle.  The effect on animals was generally the same, and a mushroom-maddened super-reindeer traditionally guarded each shaman. When missionaries first reached Santa’s native Lapland, they found a thriving pagan myth of reindeer flight. Rather than oppose it, they shrewdly assimilated the stories into the folklore of Christmas and Saint Nicholas. This then, is the true origin of the legend of Santa’s flying sleigh. The colour scheme of his outfit is taken from the unmistakable red and white cap of the fungus. Lapps still scatter the mushroom in the snow to round up reindeer. Incidentally, the urine of people who eat the mushroom contains substantial quantities of the isoxazole derivatives that produce the intoxicating effect. Impoverished Lapps knew this, and collected round the huts of rich Lapps who indulged in the mushroom at Christmas parties. When their overlords came out to relieve themselves in the snow, the serfs collected the urine to drink. When they, in turn, urinated in the snow, the reindeer fought to utilise what remained of the mushroom’s intoxicating effects. There is a fairly comprehensive study of fly agaric and its effects in Mushrooms, Poisons and Panacea by Denis R. Benjamin (ISBN 0 7167 2649 1). More on this at:

  9. An intriguing report in a Norwegian newspaper: – In some areas of the country that had been affected by fallout from the Chernobyl disaster, goat and sheep meat was found to have enhanced levels of radioactive elements in the autumn. These elements had been washed down into the soil below the level where they could be taken up significantly by grass roots. But they were being brought up to the surface again in the autumn by fungi, which the goats and sheep were eating.

  10. Fungi as firelighters – Many species of polypores have been used as tinder for making fire, but Fomes fomentarius, ‘touchwood’ or ‘punk’ has enjoyed primacy from the beginning. Its use can be traced back for millenia as both native fruitbodies and as fruitbodies bearing traces of human handling. A frozen Neolithic corpse found in Austria in 1991 was found to have a bag containing dried fungal fragments. These were analysed for likely medicinal or fire-making properties, but the ethnomycological problems remained unresolved, although it seems likely that a polypore was used as tinder.
    F. fomentarius has also been used for medicinal purposes. Smoking rituals associated with the fungus are reported from western Siberia and among the Ainu people of Hokkaido, Japan, both to relieve the symptoms of epidemics and to banish evil spirits. Ancient Siberian peoples also used the ground polypore as snuff and varius Inuit peoples of North America used to smoke ashes of the tinder bracket on its own or after mixing it with tobacco. Peintner, U., Poder, R, and Pumpel, U (1998) The iceman’s fungi. Mycological Research 102(10): 1153-1162.

  11. Amanita muscaria without question plays a cultic role in the folk medicine of the Shutul Valley. Inquiring about its occurrence and use, we have received information that the so-called “Raven’s Bread”,3 i.e., Amanita muscaria, is gathered in the late spring of wet years from moist eroded rock crevices and undergoes spontaneous drying in the blazing sun. In this way, the mushroom is almost permanently preserved, provided that strict drying of this hygroscopic material is ensured. Reduced to granulated form (we are even told of mushroom-grinding mills that were used for this in the past), A. muscaria is used by the inhabitants of the Shutul Valley as a stimulant. They boil the Amanita granules with fresh mountain snapweed (Impatiens noli-tangere subsp. montana) and soured goat-cheese brine, in this way producing the well-known specialty, Extract of Shutul (bokar). By mixing the mushroom with other substances, twice the amount of fluid is obtained from half the amount of mushrooms. In the hamlet of Qaf-e-Changar, at the upper reaches of the Shutul, the calyx-tips of seed-bearing flowers of the malign henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) are added to the Extract; it is used for purposes of therapeutic massage, coming into effect by means of transcutaneous stimulation.

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