Ep.21 Fungal Appreciation - Ben Kendrick (@FungiwithBengi)

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You're on the Plants Grow Here podcast. I'm Daniel Fuller. Come along with me as we enter a hidden world of deep horticultural, ecological and landscape gardening knowledge with featured experts, industry professionals and enthusiasts. The word fungi used to be a very bad word in most gardeners minds. However, over the last few years, I've noticed that the fungal Kingdom has been getting a lot more love. In this episode, we're lucky enough to have on Ben Kendrick, who's a mushroom enthusiast with an excellent Twitter account that you're probably already following if you're on the platform and intimacies. Welcome to the show, Ben.
Thanks for having me.
Yeah, no dramas. So how did you personally become involved and interested in fungi?
Ah, so I forget the order of what it when it happened. There was two main events that happened in close proximity. I had found a lion's mane mushroom in the woods one day, and I had also watched Paul Stamets, on the Joe Rogan experience. And I think if I had just watched him alone, or found that mushroom alone, I might not have had that spark lit, but just seeing the things that they were talking about, basically, right in my backyard just made it seem more real, that a person could just go pick mushrooms in the woods and eat it and it wouldn't be dangerous.
It wouldn't be dangerous.
Definitely a lot to cover when we're talking safety, but it basically got me there.
So they say that fungi are more closely related to humans than to plants. Can you describe what fungal organisms actually are?
So
they used to get called plants up until as recently is 6070 years ago. But they breathe oxygen similar into humans, and they breathe out co2. They have fruiting bodies like a plant. But they don't necessarily have seeds. They have spores, which kind of differentiates them.
And I guess I have sort of like mycelium, which are like little root like things down the bottom of them too.
Oh, yeah. So the mycelium you mostly don't see that even when I'm walking through the woods looking for mushrooms. I don't really see the mushroom mycelium unless I've already like pulled up the stem or something. And I might see a little bit of mycelium down there. But it's just like an iceberg. You don't see most of the fungus. You basically just see the fruits when they happen. And they're kind of hiding all the time.
And beneath the surface. Yeah. And I guess not all fungi have a mushroom associated with them. Can you tell me a little bit about how that works.
So some don't necessarily need to have a mushroom some fungi are very basic and just like single cellular and they it would be kind of crazy if they ever coagulated into a mushroom if you know what I mean like yeasts. They don't reproduce through mushrooms, lichens. They don't have mushrooms either, but they're still a type of fungi, mold. They have kind of small fruiting bodies, but you wouldn't call them a mushroom and depending on where you draw the line of your definition of mushroom, there's also things called coral fungie. There's all sorts of different kinds like rosaria clabby, Lena, clavijo, and opsis in a whole bunch of different kinds that it'd be a bit of a stretch to call them a mushroom, but they're serving a very similar purpose.
Right, so what do they look like?
Um, basically like you're under the ocean had very similar to a coral underwater. They some of them are bright colors. Some of them are kind of white, like a bleached coral, I guess. The ones that I see the most are usually white, but there's purple. There yellow, gray, and orange and I think a few others there's actually there's a red one that might be growing close to you called a red fire coral. And that one might stand out quite a
bit. I think I've seen the red one. There's a yellow one that so bright need really can't miss it when you will come around to the templestowe area.
Oh, nice. Is it like a single stock or is it branched?
A I think it's branched. The sort of like clump together there's like a bunch of them there and yet it looks exactly like Carl.
Oh, nice. I'm not sure what that one would be.
Yeah, I don't I don't know either. Play playing man then then a mushroom in which is why I follow you on Twitter actually. And what the fungi generally tend to eat.
I'm mainly dead things Or sugars is probably the two main categories I would put it into. There's probably better ways of categorizing what they eat. But the things that eat dead things are considered separate tropes. And they eat things like wood, and just sawdust and dead plants and stuff like that. And there's other mycorrhizal fungi, which they would eat things more like sugars, which they would get from trees that they partner up with in exchange for water.
So they partner up with the tree, it's not necessarily always a kind of a parasitic thing.
It's very rarely parasitic, from what I can tell. Most fungi close to a tree are probably helping it like 95%, I would say,
Yeah, all the time, I get customers in my day job as a maintenance gardener sort of coming up and saying, Oh, this is the fungi, can you please get rid of it? And I sort of have to sort of say, Oh, you know, maybe you don't want to do that, because probably performing a kind of a function for the plant.
Yeah. And even if your tree was dying, the fungi growing off of it would just be recycling the nutrients. It wouldn't be bad. It would just be getting rid of your dead tree for you, I guess.
Yeah, sure. And then we've got something like, you know, maybe there are parasitic ones as well. And all gardeners know about, you know, if you leave via your roots in the wet too long, you're gonna get some of that mold in the soil, and that's going to kill your plant.
Yeah, there's some that we're still trying to figure out if they're parasitic or separate. trophic, just because they're kind of blurring the lines, like, hard to tell if they're picking weak trees, or if they're actually attacking, attacking trees. And I think armillaria like honey, mushrooms are sometimes considered parasitic.
Okay. So it might be a case of sometimes the plants dying, and then the molds there and you think the molds doing the work, but it's actually just there for the process. It's just a part of that dyeing process.
Sometimes, yeah. I think more often than not, Hmm,
that's interesting. See, I've always thought of certain types of motors necessarily bad, but that's actually kind of like,
well, I guess not molds. mold is usually pretty bad in the presence of a tree. But if you see like an actual, like mushroom growing like next to the tree or something, that's usually a pretty good thing. If you see a mushroom growing like off of like the trunk of a tree, that's probably a sign of the trees getting weak. There is the chance that that mushroom could be parasitic. But oftentimes, it's just sattva trophic and taking advantage of a weakness.
And what is a maka, Rozell fungal organism?
So these ones are not this hypertrophic ones, they're kind of like counterpart, so the opposites to this hypertrophy. These ones are the ones that would be most likely growing close to a tree but not on it. They act as like an extension to the root system of the tree so that it can collect more water and withstand drought better in times of a lot of heat. Or just when you don't get rain for two months or so I can extend the overall mass of the root system, or I forget if it was mass or volume that I was trying to quote here. But it really extends the amount of water that a tree can take in by partnering up with the Congress.
Yeah, that's an example of a partnership between a train of fungus where they both sort of win out there.
Yeah, exactly. The the trees will send sugars in exchange for the water that the fungi will send up. And the fungi will also send minerals like potassium and magnesium and just those little nutrients had to, to kind of help the tree. It's mostly just sugars that the mushrooms are getting out of it, I think,
Hmm, yeah, just getting that carbon out of the tree just sort of makes pretty easily. Mm hmm. And also, I read an article, I don't remember where I read the article, but they were talking about how maka, Razi sometimes play a kind of a stock broking role, where they'll take nutrients from one plant that has a lot and they'll sort of trade with another plant, and sort of like try and play the stocks and try and profit even more, sort of through that trading.
I think that probably definitely happens. It's not a concept that I'm personally that familiar with. But the fungi are really smart. And I think the more that we research that the more we're going to understand how much they're in control.
Yeah, that it's kind of crazy. They are pretty crazy. misunderstood little organisms, for sure.
are extremely I. I've only really been interested in fungi for two or three years now. But it was just like my eyes opened as soon as I realized that. fungi is a positive word and a negative word. Yeah.
Me too.
And you're actually a forger of mushrooms. Can you tell our listeners whether foraging for mushrooms is actually safe?
situationally, you would want to make sure that you've researched the mushroom you're trying to pick quite thoroughly before ever picking it, you would want to have multiple friends to kind of refer to as a second opinion that preferably know more about mushrooms than you do. You wouldn't want to pick some, you wouldn't want to eat something that you just picked. Now, let's say I found an unusual mushroom. And then I googled it and found out that it was edible, that it wouldn't be a good idea to go home and just put it in the frying pan, even if it said it was an edible on the internet, just because there's a possibility that you could make the mistake. And you really want to give yourself time to know that you know what kind of mushroom it is and not think that you know what mushroom? It is, if that makes sense, huh?
Yeah, because some mushrooms are going to give you a very long, slow, painful death. And some of them do look a lot like edible mushrooms.
Yes. Probably the best example to use there is the destroying Angel mushroom, it's kind of an all white mushroom it to most people who only eat like the button mushrooms at the grocery store, they might think it looks really innocent, because it's just a white mushroom like you've had in the store. It even is supposed to taste really good. So people might not notice stop eating it after they started. But it's one of the most toxic mushrooms in the world, it will shut down your kidneys and your liver. And that's not something that would kill you within like three hours like a drug overdose or something. That's something that the toxins in your blood would have to go on filtered for, like a week or so or maybe five days before you just get so toxified and dirty blood and basically that you die from it. And he didn't be having seizures the whole time throwing up, it just wouldn't be quick, huh? No, not at all. Make sure you know Yeah, mushroom if you're picking mushrooms.
Yeah, and I'd like to put a little disclaimer here that we are definitely not encouraging people to go out and forge their own mushrooms because you quite literally are taking your own life into your hands when you do so.
Exactly. And you wouldn't be able to blame it on anyone else. You have to play. Take your own responsibility into your own hands. Basically, when you're doing this. You have to be sure that you're doing a lot of research. And a lot of people might not have the attention span for that, to be honest.
That's right. They're gonna go for the quick thing in though, to pick that thing up. Good enough yet close enough. But I won't even say probably don't go out on your own at all. You probably need to go out with someone who's been doing this for a number of years. Who knows the local fungi?
Yeah, I can probably bring up that fire coral I was mentioning earlier again. Normally, I would say that it's mostly dangerous to just put the mushroom in your mouth. I tend like to eat it. But that poison fire. Oh, fire coral is having reports that you can touch it and absorbed through your skin, which is very abnormal. Normally, you can just touch a mushroom bare handed and be fine, even if it's an extremely toxic mushroom. But with that poison fire coral, it's apparently enough to make you sick.
Well, that's terrifying.
Yeah, it doesn't grow where I live, but I think it's moved on to Australia. So I figured I'd bring it up to this conversation.
Thank you. Yeah, that sounds like the sort of thing I would do is definitely sort of reached down and sort of try and touch it and move it around and have a look say, try and avoid that one.
Yeah, and then this one's probably the most minor warning I have for you here for mushroom foraging. Allergies exists with basically any type of food. So even if something's edible, it might not necessarily mean that you can eat it. It could you could have a an allergic reaction. And sometimes that kind of I, I just said that you can normally touch your mushroom with your bare hands. But I'm just going to disagree with myself now all of a sudden. But let me explain myself. You can have sort of an allergic reaction with your skin called contact dermatitis, where it's basically an allergic reaction. Most people aren't going to have it but if you've had contact dermatitis from touching other objects, it might be a bad idea to be touching mushrooms raw, because you might be more susceptible to having contact dermatitis well touching mushrooms. But once again, that's probably not going to happen to most people. It just one of those 1% things and yeah, you definitely have to give that disclaimer.
Hmm, that's a good one. So is mushroom appreciation only for edibles or are there inedible machines out there as well that are worthy of interest?
Yes, it really depends on your interest, but there's a whole bunch. The first one that I'm going to bring up is polypore mushrooms are a little bit Different thing gild mushrooms. Most people know what mushroom gills are, but not necessarily everyone knows what mushroom pores are. And they're kind of an alternative reproductive structure structure that some mushrooms will have. They drop their spores do these little tubes instead of through their gills. And the two main ones are main groups of poly pores are like wood growing. Well, this isn't a technical grouping, but I'm going to use this grouping. Woody poly pores is something that people often say it's not a scientific term, but they're the poly pores that would likely be growing on the side of a tree as a separate trophy. The other grouping are boletes, which are not Woody, quote unquote. They're a lot squishier. And these are often more edible with a poly pores are rarely edible, or the woody poly pores are rarely edible, I should say. And mushrooms for dyeing fabrics are also something that comes up with a lot of people who are really creative, and they can make natural dyes of Mary's mushrooms. A lot of them ones that I find around here that are often used for dying or poly poor mushrooms to cinnabar poly pores are one. They're basically cinnabar colored like a reddish orangish kind of color. And then there's dyers poly pores, which are brown. And you can get all sorts of colors out of that one. I don't know how I think. Well, I'm talking on a subject I don't really understand, but the people who do the dyeing have different things called Morgan's and depending on which more than you use you to get different colors out of the dyers polyboard.
So, are there any other sort of really weird fungi that you've come across?
Well, there's fungi that grow on fungie, like fungie ception. They're called hypo. My C's are a really common group of fungi that grow on fungie. The most common hypo, my C's is called the lobster mushroom, which is an edible one that I think can be bought online, actually. It's, it's like a mold. It's orange that grows on russula mushrooms and other related mushrooms to wrestlers, I think milk caps as well. And it basically eats the main features on the mushroom until it just turns into this orange wavy mask, it's kind of cool looking, I'd recommend googling it.
I'll put a link in the show notes to an image in Google or something like that in the for our listeners.
Wonderful.
Another weird fungie I could probably talk about and bring up. I found a mushroom. And this one's a good example of why you should definitely Google things pretty thoroughly when you when you first learn something, I would have called this one trike Aloma equestre, which is the scientific name for like a yellow Knight mushroom, I think is the common name. And there's these various chemicals you can use to look for strange reactions in mushrooms, because sometimes multiple species will look like the same mushroom. But maybe one mushroom will react to this chemical one way, and then another mushroom will turn a different color from that cup from that chemical. So I used kayo h solution potassium hydrate. And it turned purple when I use that solution on the trachoma mushroom. So that's not a reaction I can find on Google associated with the species that I thought it was. So I have a pretty good indication that it's not the species that I originally thought it was. So at this point, I'm, I'm procrastinating, I should say on sending in that mushroom, just someone that knows better, because it could be an indication that it's something that we haven't discovered yet. There's a lot of different species out there in the world. And there's not a lot of people that are studying it. So there's certain species complexes and groupings and sections of geniuses, if that makes sense to using sciency words too much maybe.
We've got an episode on I think it was Episode 13 was learning scientific name. So if our listeners want to learn more about what the word genius and things like that are, you can go through and listen to that one.
Wonderful. These things that will visually look almost identical to another mushroom, which is another reason why you really have to know what you're doing if you're foraging mushrooms and Sometimes when you use these chemicals, you can just get a weird reaction out of it and have a good clue that there might be a different species going on. Not saying for sure that the mushroom I found is a new species. But if something like that happens, it's a good clue that it could be a new species. Hmm.
Well, the fact that the fungal Kingdom hasn't been researched very well, is sort of an indication that there are obviously a lot of things out there that are undiscovered. So yeah, that is very exciting. Really,
I brought a kingdom, but I don't think people are really diving into it as much. So there's definitely a lot to be discovered. I don't necessarily, I don't know what is going to be discovered. Really, definitely something. And a lot of areas probably don't have very many specimen centers already.
Well, if any of our listeners are sort of looking to go to uni and study something in the gardening realm, I think that fungal organisms is definitely a good place to sort of go because yeah, like you said, it's sort of not not saturated. And I think that the way I see it is that people are becoming more and more interested in it. So I think that there's a big future there.
I think so too. I think it would help both kingdoms of life if people took that in school, or more than two kingdoms, really, because then you would be helping all the insects and animals and everything that depend on those plants and fungi.
Yeah, I mean, the whole natural system is exactly that. It's a system.
Mm hmm. So all community, and all depends on each other. Hmm,
just like how we have a heart and we have a liver and we have a stomach. They will work together. So what is Lacan
Simply put, it's a symbiosis between an ascomycete fungi, and either a cyanobacteria, or a photosynthetic algae. So there's a few different forms that could happen. But there's always a photosynthetic partner and of Humboldt Park here is basically what unites all lichens are that I know of anyway. lichens tend to live in areas that are either very damp environments, like boggy areas, or just areas that have very clean air in general, like without a lot of pollution. There are certain species that are endangered due to pollution in certain areas of the world. low barrier pulmonaria is an example of one of them. It's endangered in the UK, but where I live, it's actually one of the more common lichens, so it's probably a good example of how much pollution can impact lichens. I don't think the pollution is that bad in the UK, but I think just where people are closer together, that probably impacts like there's a lot more where and Canada's just really spread out. We're probably not more green country, but there's just a lot more space for pollution to dilute is. That is That sounds.
So you're sort of saying that even though it looks like one organism is actually important one was it's actually going to be two organisms, and sometimes three,
I believe, oh, I think there's sometimes more than one algae species going on there. Okay. But I believe the the fungi basically provides a structure for the photosynthetic organisms to live more sheltered, I believe that they live like within the Titan of the fun bungee, but that I can't verify that with a googling.
So I guess you'll you'll often see him if you don't know what a Lacan is, I guess you'll often see him on concrete on trees, and they sort of, I guess, they just look like what you would think of as a no, they look like like, and they don't really look like a mold or anything. They look like what they are.
That's a good way of putting it because they're definitely their own thing. There's some that are a little bit leafy looking, but for the most part, they're very plain, I guess I could call it Hmm. Some of them are just kind of colorful looking. Like crusts that are growing on rocks. There's foliose lichens, which they're leafy like the low barrier pulmonaria like and I brought up earlier. Some of them are kind of bluish. It's really hard to describe what it like and is just easier to point at one and say, that's all I can.
And then you'll know even if it's a different type of locking, you'll still know what it is.
Well, I don't know the lichens as well as the other, like mushroom producing fungie. But I do know if you
can easily sort of spot one you'd be like that's not a mold. That's a lockean Oh, yeah. And I'll put a couple of links to a couple of Google images as well for locking just in case listeners don't know what that word actually means.
Oh, that'd be great.
Then you personally use I naturalist as one of the ways to get an ID on your specimens. Can you explain how this application works.
So there are a few different ways that you can get an ID from mine that you can either get human IDs or artificial intelligence IDs, I'd say that they're both useful in their own way. They usually start with the AI version, especially if I don't know what something is. I'll use that as basically a suggestion on where to start my Google searches on what to call it. But you definitely don't take the AI for granted. It's really good for preventing, like mental blocks that could go on for two or three days. Because then it just gives you this four or five different suggestions on species names on what you could be looking at. And that can really save you a lot of time. If you just have to go and Google and think Does this make sense? Maybe check a few other species in the genus that could look similar. And that kind of saves you a lot of taking a lot of the time, I guess, is the best way that I could explain it. But then see that you don't know exactly what you're looking at, then there's the human element. out see, if you found a random plant, the best thing to say is either plant or flowering plant on your observation. And then that kind of sorted so that people that are kind of specialists in flowering plants could maybe specify further. And then say it's a relative to peas, or something like that, who, maybe the flowering plant people could say that's a in the order of values. And kind of narrow it down for you so that there's less to dig through. Hmm, and there's a kind of a majority rules thing for the IDs, just in case there's people that aren't as good at doing so I guess. If there's like one bad ID, then three people can say the correct ID overrule that person. It's definitely good to use both, I find, you definitely need to have the exposure to other people and scrutiny on what you're trying to identify. And by the AI is also very useful for saving time. One thing to mention about I naturalist, the ranking system, sometimes people think that because someone has a lot of IDs, then they're some sort of expert. But a lot of the times that's just someone that's doing a lot of work that makes sense, where they might not have a lot of knowledge. And like say there's an unknown section on the website. And people can just go through the unknown section for unlabeled things and say, hey, that's a fun G. That's a plant. And that will bring you to the ranking. And honestly, I'm one of those people. So I just wanted to say though, I'm not necessarily an expert, but you can definitely get a lot of work done just doing very simple IDs. And it's very helpful for a lot of people I think,
right? So once you've put it into Well, that's a Lycan that gives them a sort of a bit of a head start on Okay, now I can ask the liking people what this is.
Yes, exactly.
Okay. So it's really a social media platform, isn't it? In a way?
Yeah, for nature geeks. I like using the human section for birds, I find I find the the AI doesn't really work that well for me. But if I just say bird. There's a lot of people on there that are good with birds. And there's a good chance that within 24 hours, someone's going to have it all the way down to two species.
Mm hmm.
There's definitely certain kingdoms and classes that have bigger communities than others they'll say, but that website gives a social media platform for all the communities to mingle.
Are there any other resources that you can recommend for identifying and learning more about fungi?
resorts in the I recommend I'd say, Miko club Quebec has a really good website for Canadians if you happen to be close to where I am. It's basically a huge listing of species that have been identified within Canada or at least close to Quebec. Not always back. There's a YouTube channel called learn your land. This guy is from Pennsylvania in the United States, and he's very good covering fungal it identification and plant identification on the same YouTube channel. I use a major help for me learning, basically all the easy suspiria the usual suspects when it comes to mushrooms. And Paul Stamets is always someone that I'll recommend because he inspired me, so I'm sure he'll inspire someone else to someday, huh,
he's inspired me tonight.
He's a great guy.
Is there anything else that you'd like our listeners to learn about?
There's a charity called the ecology Action Network. And they're basically a charity to help with the they basically fight to protect land, close to where I live, so that it's permanently, like a protected nature area. And they cover a lot of the legal aspect of getting that done and scrutinizing various bills to see what the environmental impact is and protecting species. And they're a great charity to donate to. Thank you ecology Action Network.
And we'll have a link in the show notes for our listeners to check out that one as well.
Wonderful.
Well, thank you so much for coming on the show, Ben. That was awesome. And I hope our listeners have learned a lot about fungal organisms.
And thank you for having me on.
I just like to make sure one more time that everybody knows we are not advocating for you to try the mushrooms that you farge yourself. Especially unless you've done your own chemical test and spore print, as well as get a positive identification from somebody who's been doing it for a long time in your area. For most of us, mushrooms are best observed from afar. So make sure you're following Ben on Twitter, at fungi with Benji so you can keep learning about these incredibly mysterious little critters. Get on there and give me a follow to add plants grow here.

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