In the Gallery: The Fungus Among Us

When I first discovered mushrooms on my dinner plate at age 7, they accompanied a hamburger, so I could be forgiven for theorizing then that they were a form of meat. After all, they possessed a chewy texture a little reminiscent of meat and they tasted like meat since they had been fried in hamburger juices, which they absorb like a sponge.

I won’t go into what mushrooms actually are, other than to say they’re a form of fungus and fungi are a big story. It’s well worth looking the term up in Wikipedia because they are a unique and fascinating form of life, of which mushrooms are only one limited form. Relatively few of the latter are deadly poisonous or “mind-altering,” and others, gustatorily speaking, are “to die for.” For example, ask a Frenchman about truffles.
Amanita muscaria by Kevin Jones
The mushrooms pictured in the show of photographs now hanging in Mindport’s gallery were shot at 9000 feet altitude on Grand Mesa, just east of Grand Junction, Colorado, USA. Never in my life have I witnessed such a huge bloom of mushrooms at one time. One of the types most represented in this collection of images is the shiny red species with the warts on the cap. This is a poisonous variety, considered by some to be “mind-altering,” whose scientific name is Amanita muscaria or commonly as the fly agaric. Best not to experiment with these at home, or anywhere else. They can indeed sent you on a trip. . . but it might be your last one.

There’s another image of a tall, slender, white mushroom that I suspect is an Amanita phalloides, also known as the death cap. It reportedly makes you sick right away, then you get better, but die the next week of liver and/or kidney failure. Fun, huh? These are so poisonous that it’s recommended that you don’t even handle them.

It’s only by chance that a number of these images happened to depict toxic fungi. Those were the variety “in bloom” at the time. They are beautiful and graceful organisms to a photographer’s eye, whether they happen to be friendly to human metabolic processes or not. Many types are indeed delicious to eat, though great caution and expert advice is a must when sampling any found growing wild.  As a life form, they are unique in the sense that they do not photosynthesize in order to energize their life processes, but secrete digestive enzymes into their environment then absorb nutrition directly through the walls of their cell membranes. The fact that they pop up at unexpected times, usually in damp, dark, or haunted places, and that certain species have properties that encourage some of us to use them as a form of spiritual “medicine,” adds to their intrigue.  I hope you find these mushroom images as delicious to contemplate as I do.

-Kevin Jones