Friday, July 14, 2006

a fungus among us

House mushrooms. We've got 'em. House mushrooms. We're infested.

They're yellow to match the tiles in the bathroom. Thank god they don't fully match the bathroom tiles. Then they'd have to be pink AND yellow. And they'd have to have grout between them, I suppose. And knowing my luck, they'd leak.

But these fungal volunteers: first they're in one pot; then they're in another. The alocasia had them first. Then they moved on over to the marginalia -- no, that's marginata (which I got at Ikea, so the name's probably made up, like Magiker bookcases or Flarb credenza covers). The potted palm is the current victim of the fungus incursion. The yellow mushrooms come up -- overnight -- and then they open, spewing spores all over the floor in a light dusting. Covering the ficus berries, the miniature yellow dates, and the hairballs that already litter the floor.

I'm not sure I like the idea of anything -- animal, vegetable, or mineral -- spewing spores in my living room. I don't want to upset the delicate equilibrium of my squalor.

These guys don't even look real. They look like mushrooms stenciled on t-shirts, that cliché summer-of-love iconography. Lord of the Rings meets The Doors of Perception. Or was that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas meets That Seventies Show?

I'll never know if they're psychedelic. I'm a little skittish about their potential toxicity. Is it really okay to have yellow fungus in your living room? Should you, like, do something? Or call someone? Hey! Culligan Man! Or maybe you're supposed to call Roto Rooter/that's the name/and away go troubles/down the drain. They must be psychoactive, because they're making me awfully nervous, the way psychedelics do just before they come on.

I am awfully nervous. I am.

So I do what any other horribly lazy yet neurotically fearful person would do. I do a Google Image Search for yellow mushroom. Once I've eliminated the ones that are clearly cutesy products (mushroom paper lanterns! mushroom salt-and-pepper shakers! art glass mushrooms!), I begin to notice a theme: these guys are all growing outside. Out-of-doors. In the musky dusky woodlands. Not in an urban living room. And they either all look just like our infestation or none of them do.

Hmmm. Perhaps there is something to worry about. Perhaps they're so highly toxic that the weird lightheaded way I feel as I plow through page after page of jpegs is incipient mushroom poisoning. Maybe just breathing the mycelium gas that they emit when they respire is doing irreparable harm to my delicate organs. To the soft, absorbent part of my brain where I store important things like advertising jingles and sitcom plots.

Damn. How do you ID a mushroom anyway? They really do all look pretty darned similar to me. Maybe they don't to another mushroom. That's it! Maybe what I've got to do is pretend to be a mushroom. Then I'll be able to tell the difference.

Nah. Doesn't help. Although I can see how it wouldn't be a bad hobby, pretending to be a mushroom. It actually seems a lot like yoga.

But I've got to get serious here. I google mushroom identification yellow. A Bolbitius vitellinus or a Mycena capillaripes? You tell me. Or maybe -- because I like the name -- an Inonotus tomentosus, aka Red Butt Rot. And here's a Laccaria laccata var. pallidifolia, aka Lackluster Laccaria. Lackluster? No, I'd say these yellow mushrooms are downright enthusiastic. Not in the least lackluster or under-performing. A Suillus brevipes, aka Short-Stemmed Slippery Jack? Doesn't look like it, but wouldn't you like to say you had one of those in your living room? I would. And here's a Tricholomopsis rutilans (aka Plums and Custard). The names are great, but I still haven't ID'd the fungus. I'd like to say that the Bolbitius is a pretty good match, but really I'm not so sure.

How'd this fungus even get here? I don't recall inviting it up. The living room is 75 steps up from the street, so it certainly didn't get here on the 24 Muni. The 24 bus is always late anyhow, so that fungus wouldn't be among us until tomorrow. At the earliest. And it'd be talking to itself like the other riders of the 24.

I wonder if the world's largest fungus has reached my living room. Could it be a long arm of the Armillaria ostoyae that occupies about 10 square kilometers in Oregon? Could the Armillaria ostoyae be trying to maintain its position as World's Largest Organism, a position recently usurped by Pando, a hyperactive colony of quaking aspens?

The last time I checked, Oregonians don't migrate in this direction; rather they accuse Californians of heading up their way. But this particular fungus could be a rebel; after all, Armillaria ostoyae kills trees, which is not a very Oregonian thing to do. Last time I checked with my Oregonian friends Sara and George, Oregonians grow trees, not kill them.

So how can I tell if my fungus is an extension of the ever-growing record-seeking over-achieving Oregon fungus? Nah, it just can't be. It's not killing my houseplants. In fact, to the contrary, they seem envigorated by their new pot-mates. I used to feel that way about housemates myself. That is, until I saw the overdue phone bill with calls to a payphone in Antarctica or looked inside the fridge and discovered leftovers that looked like furry pets. Or found a 2 inch wide shoulder-to-shoulder trail of ants leading to an open jar of Mary Ellen Strawberry Preserves.


Maybe the pigs brought the spores in. The pigs don't usually bring stuff in; they just mill around the livingroom in a small herd. Is it a herd? Everything's a cohort nowadays, so maybe the pigs hang around in their cohort. But anyway, they don't bring much in; they don't even track in mud on their tiny pink trotters.

What if, what if, what if they assembled themselves into formation? What if they chose themselves a leader (GWPig?) and headed off across the hardwood like a platoon of geese. (It's not platoon, is it? It should be. Perhaps a squadron.) They could -- and remember, this is strictly a re-enactment -- make an effort to spread fungus spores hither and yon. You know, collect them outside and bring them in. Don't pigs love truffles? These mushrooms are like truffles, only not quite as truffle-y. But -- in your mind's eye -- you could see house pigs wanting to grow house mushrooms if they couldn't root for truffles in the great out-of-doors.

In the next part of the enactment, I attempted to stack pig on top of pig -- some hot pig-on-pig action -- but I found that the stack got unstable way before I got the whole cohort to reach the top of the palm's blue pot. (Jonathan Small, by the way, is an expert at pig stacking, and the best I've seen him do is a 6-deep pig stack.) And in a more stable pig pyramid formation, a classic of cheerleaders the world over, they simply don't have the altitude to get over the lip of the pot.

But we have lots of raw material available for the pigs to use to reach the top of the blue palm pot. For example, I have arts-and-crafts outbursts, during which I paint dried flowers. Please don't tease me about it; I'm sure there are many venues -- summer camps, kindergarten classrooms, mental hospitals -- where such things are not frowned upon, but rather explicitly encouraged. What if the pig cohort hauled one of the dried lotus pods out of its arrangement and over to the potential truffle farm? They could traverse the pod's stem and get right to the dirt. Sowing (so to speak) spores to grow truffles. Or mushrooms.

It could've happened just that way. You can even try this in your own livingroom. Pigs + aerable houseplant soil + ad hoc ladder + spores = indoor truffle patch.

See if it doesn't work for you. And that's just one scenario. I'm certain you can come up with many more. Lots of ways those mushrooms could've gotten to where they are.

Or perhaps I'm under-rating their psychoactive potential. Hey Culligan man!


Blogger Susie said...

Don't worry, Cathy. We have periodic mushroom eruptions in the front yard of my dad's house every time it rains. It used to sort of disturb us, but so far they've had no deleterious effects. How your fungus got into the house, though, beats me.

It must be the pigs. It must.

3:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leucocoprinus birnbaumii, aka Lepiota lutea, the yellow houseplant mushroom, i think this may be what is in your plant. To make sure you can check out this link, while doing an experiment i found these in one of my plants.

11:20 AM  
Blogger Cathy said...

Ray Hosler, who is a local mushroom expert, also ID'd my house fungus as Leucocoprinus birnbaumii. His houseplants are similarly afflicted; he sent me a photo of his ficus and its fungal roommates.

I bet the yellow mushrooms don't pay their half of the phone bill; fungi never do.

2:43 PM  
Blogger --donna said...

Hey Cathy, I've got them in my houseplant too. I checked that website from earier comments, and it looked like that. I do hope it doesn't migrate around to other plants here.

12:11 PM  
Blogger Robyn said...

You know how I came across your post? Because I had the same problem! And I also Googled it. Woke up this morning and there were mushrooms in my palm plant pot. It's at the top of my blog right now -- -- they don't look like yours, but they are yellow. Now I'm grossing out about the spores, and I want to go vacuum but I can't cuz I'm at work.

2:59 PM  
Anonymous Ray Hosler said...

Cathy, I'm anything but an expert on mushrooms. But thanks for the compliment.

9:15 AM  
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