Oregon is home to the largest known living organism in the world. In Malheur National Forest, near the eastern edge of the state, a network of mycelium stretches underground for 2,384 acres, an area as big as 1,665 football fields or 4 square miles. Scientific American (October 4, 2007) reports that this sprawling organism is somewhere between 2,400 and 8,650 years old.
The humongous fungus, or Armillaria ostoyae, is something of a monster, killing conifers in its wake. The mushrooms that sprout by the thousands are known as honey mushrooms because of their sweet flavor.
The article notes, “the discovery of such huge fungi specimens rekindled the debate of what constitutes an individual organism.” Tom Volk, a biology professor at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse, goes on to say, “It’s one set of genetically identical cells that are in communication with one another that have a sort of common purpose or at least can coordinate themselves to do something.”
The discovery seems sensational, but these mycelia networks may be commonplace around the world. “We think that these things are not very rare,” Volk notes. “We think that they’re in fact normal.”
The largest known actual fruited mushroom was found by Chinese scientists in a tropical forest. In his interview with Terry Gross (which we mentioned here), mycologist Nicholas Money reported, “this particular mushroom is 10 meters long, it weighs half a ton, and this thing sheds a trillion spores a day.” It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around that many spores squirting out in a single day! (This video of a mushroom releasing spores in slow motion shows what I mean by squirted!) But mushrooms always seem to outdo expectations.
[This is not the mushroom mentioned above, nor a specimen from Oregon, but it’s still a pretty enormous and impressive sight. Source: cuechazo.tumblr.com.]