Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Patience of Fungi

In the nineteen years that we have owned our Littleton, Colorado farm, this has been the wettest spring and summer. As a consequence, I have seen more varieties of fungi on the property this year than I had over the previous eighteen combined. Maroon mats of slime mold, puff balls and a wide diversity of mushrooms and fungal growths are scattered across the fields and flower beds.

Of course, the fungi have been here all along, their mycelia infiltrating every patch of soil and every piece of decaying vegetation. The fruiting bodies that we observe are merely their structures for spore production and dispersal; the average mushroom releases millions (if not billions) of spores during its brief presence. Since moist soil conditions favor spore survival and germination, the fruiting bodies usually appear after periods of heavy precipitation (hence their abundance this year).

Observing nature from a human perspective, we are often amazed by the slow pace at which some life cycles unfold. Alpine lichen, for example, may take a thousand years to cover the side of a boulder. There is a certain patience in nature's cycles that is foreign to the human mind; we would do well to absorb some of that essence.