Mushrooms are remarkable organisms that exist in various shapes and sizes. Some grow on trees, while many emerge from the soil. Fungi are neither plants nor animals, as they are classified as fungi. However, there exists a unique category of fungi that grow in poop.
Yes, you read that right! These fascinating mushrooms transform what many perceive as an unpleasant and unclean substance into a valuable, nutrient-dense medium for their growth.
Although it might seem bizarre, these mushrooms serve an important function within the ecosystem. In this article, we will delve into the world of these unconventional fungi. We’ll explore the fascinating aspects of their biology and the historical importance they hold.
Magic Mushroom (Psilocybe cubensis)
First on our list is none other than the infamous magic mushrooms. They typically grow on cow dung, horse dung on occasion, sugar cane mulch, or in nutrient-rich pasture soil. Water buffalo dung serves as a thriving environment for these mushrooms.
In the Northern Hemisphere, they grow from February until December. In the Southern Hemisphere, they grow from November through April.
The Psilocybe cubensis cap measures between 0.6 and 3.1 inches and alters its shape as it ages. This mushroom transitions from a conical form to a wider, convex one. A small bump appears at the center of the cap in younger mushrooms. This bump disappears as the mushroom matures. The cap’s surface is slick and somewhat adhesive, occasionally featuring white patches from the universal veil. Over time, the mushroom’s color transitions from brown to a golden-brown or yellowish shade.
These mushrooms have a starchy taste and an alkaline or metallic aftertaste.
These mushrooms contain a chemical called psilocybin, which is responsible for causing hallucinations once it reaches the brain. Side effects of eating this mushroom include vivid hallucinations, nausea, vomiting, and negative experiences known as “bad trips.” Recent research has proven that there are also some beneficial properties of magic mushrooms. Many researchers find that Psilocybe cubensis can help people with depression, anxiety, addiction, PTSD, and other mental disorders.
These mushrooms are currently illegal at the federal level and considered a schedule I substance.
That said, the consumption of magic mushrooms is legal in a few states, such as Colorado, Oregon, and Washington D.C, and decriminalized in parts of California, Washington, Michigan, and Massachusetts.
Snowy Inkcap (Coprinopsis nivea)
The fascinating snowy inkcap mushroom grows on decomposed horse or cow dung. This mushroom grows in stable straw and dung piles or cow barns.
With a cap measuring between 0.59 and 1.2 inches, this unique mushroom begins as an egg-like formation and eventually develops into a bell shape as it ages. Young caps feature white, powdery pieces from the veil. Its gills start off white, change to gray, and finally turn black. Eventually, the cap liquefies into a black, ink-like substance. The stem, with a diameter of 0.15 to 0.27 inches, is white. The mushroom’s base is slightly swollen with white, fluffy patches.
This mushroom grows in Scandinavia and in other northern European countries, although it is less frequently seen in southern European regions. This species of inkcap is also present in certain areas of North America.
This intriguing mushroom appears from summer until late fall and is quite common, often found in large quantities. While it is unclear if it is poisonous, it’s advisable to steer clear of it due to its toxic relatives, such as the magpie inkcap, also known as Coprinopsis picacea.
Dung Bird’s Nest (Cyathus stercoreus)
Dung bird’s nest is a type of mushroom that derives its name from its appearance. The fruiting bodies of this fungus are reminiscent of bird nests, complete with eggs. These structures are known as splash cups, as they use the impact of falling water droplets to disperse their spores.
The exterior of the peridium, the ectoperidium, is covered in tufts of fungal hyphae that resemble messy, shaggy hair. However, as the fungus ages, this outer layer of hair, technically called a tomentum wear off completely. Meanwhile, the cup’s interior, the endoperidium, is smooth and colored in shades of gray to bluish-black. Inside the cup, there are usually around 20 peridioles, each about 0.03 to 0.06 inches in diameter, which resemble tiny black eggs.
As a coprophilous species, dung bird’s nest thrives in environments with dung or nutrient-rich soil, including soil that contains animal droppings or bonfire sites. Interestingly, this fungus also grows in sand dunes. Its global distribution is so vast that Curtis Gates Lloyd, in his study on the Nidulariaceae, noted that it likely exists in every country where dung is present.
While not suitable for consumption, C. stercoreus does have other applications. Traditional Chinese medicine, agriculture, and industry all make use of this fascinating fungus.
Petticoat Mottlegill (Panaeolus papilionaceus)
Petticoat mottlegill, also known as the “dung fungus,” is named after its finely serrated cap edge, which consists of remnants from the partial veil. This mushroom grows in groups and is a late colonizer of farm fields. It typically grows in areas where dung has decomposed and becomes overgrown with grass.
The cap of this mushroom is small, only measuring 0.8 to 1.6 inches in diameter. It starts off conical and gradually expands to become bell-shaped but never flattens out. Its color is hygrophanous, meaning it changes with moisture levels. The cap is pale brown or gray-brown with a darker center that dries to a pallid gray. It has a smooth and silky texture and may develop radial cracks in dry weather. The cap is adorned with tooth-like velar remains that hang from the rim, adding to its unique appearance.
The gills of Panaeolus papilionaceus are adnate, which means they are attached to the stem. They start out pale gray-brown with white edges and gradually turn to mottled dark brown before finally becoming black at maturity. The stem is 2.4 to 4.8 inches long and 0.16 to 0.31 inches in diameter. It has a similar color to the cap and is covered in a fine white powder, appearing cylindrical without a stem ring.
While it can be found throughout the year in North America, it only grows in warmer climates during winter. Despite its interesting appearance, Panaeolus papilionaceus is not generally consumed by humans because, well…it grows from poop. However, it is not poisonous.
Cheilymenia stercorea is a remarkable apothecial fungus that belongs to the Pyronemataceae family. These tiny cup fungi are adorned with lash-like hairs, making their identification based on macroscopic features alone challenging. An eyeglass is essential to spot these minuscule ascomycetes growing on animal dung. Deer and horse dung are the preferred growing substrates, but these fungi can also grow on cow pats.
This colorful ascomycete is uncommon but can be found in European countries and throughout North America. The specific epithet stercorea refers to its tendency to grow on dung, which is the primary location to find these little ascomycete disc fungi.
They appear as shallow, stemless apothecial discs that can grow up to 0.12 inches in diameter and 0.06 inches tall. These mushrooms grow in clusters, sometimes even swarms, on animal dung. The upper surface that bears the asci is orange, while the edges are adorned with hairs up to 0.03 inches long. Stellate septate hairs cover the infertile surface except for the margins.
Due to the strong smell of the growing substrate, it’s difficult to discern their odor, and they reportedly do not have a distinctive taste.
Conocybe rickenii, a mushroom belonging to the Conocybe genus, is another fungi species that thrives in feces-rich environments.
This mushroom has a conical cap that ranges in size from 0.4 to 1.0 inches and is ochre-brown, with the center sometimes turning slightly grey. The stem typically measures 1.6 to 2.8 inches in height and 0.04 to 0.08 inches in thickness, and it starts as whitish cream before darkening to a dirty brown as it ages. The cap’s flesh is thin and grey-brown, while the stem is lighter. Its adnate gills are ochre-cream, later darkening to rusty-ochre and leaving a brown spore print.
Although disputed, Conocybe rickenii’s edibility is unknown, according to British mycologist Roger Phillips. This fungus has no distinct taste or smell.
Abundant in compost heaps and dung, Conocybe rickenii thrives in soil that is rich in nutrients. These mushrooms are prevalent in gardens, especially those which use manure for rich soil. This mushroom variety can be sighted in numerous regions around the globe, including Australia, Europe, the United States, the Pacific islands, and many other places.
The fungus Coprinopsis radiata, previously identified as Coprinus radiatus, is a coprophilous species that thrives on herbivore excrement. It is a heterothallic mushroom, meaning that it requires a partner of a different mating type to reproduce.
This small and delicate fungus starts out narrowly egg-shaped and grey with a veil of white threads. As it matures, the caps remain bluish-grey and lose the veil of white threads. The stems are usually white and lack a ring. The mushroom is extremely fragile, with the stem splitting and rolling back when broken and the cap dissolving into an inky mess. A detailed examination of fresh young specimens is necessary to accurately identify this mushroom.
Coprinopsis radiata is typically found on mature herbivore manure, mainly horse dung, but it can also grow on the dung of donkeys and sheep. It can be spotted from spring through autumn, growing either alone or in groups.
The edibility of this mushroom is unknown, as there is not enough data available. However, the common inkcap, Coprinopsis atramentaria, which belongs to the same family, is known to cause severe poisoning when consumed with alcohol, suggesting longer-lasting health effects. Therefore, it’s advisable to avoid consuming Coprinopsis radiata.
The world of mushrooms growing in poop is fascinating and bizarre. From the infamous magic mushroom to the unique snowy inkcap, these mushrooms are an important part of the ecosystem, transforming waste into nutrient-rich soil.
While some of them have mind-altering effects and others are poisonous, they all hold a certain charm and mystique that captures the imagination. So next time you come across a mushroom growing in poop, don’t be too quick to dismiss it – it might just be one of the most intriguing organisms you’ll ever encounter!
Bonus: Mushrooms Are Frequently Used in Asian Medicine
Medicinal mushrooms have been used to treat infection for hundreds of years in Asian countries. They have been used in cancer treatments in Japan and China for the last 30 years – often in combination with radiation and chemotherapy. There are many types of mushrooms that are used for medicinal purposes in Asia – but one type, the turkey tail, may show more promise than any other.
Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor or Coriolus versicolor) is a type of mushroom that grows on dead logs all over the world. Its round rings resemble the tail feathers of a turkey or a roof tile – as it is called roof-tile fungus in Japan. Turkey tail has been used to treat lung diseases in China for many years and is used in Japan to strengthen the immune system during cancer treatments.
The active compound found in turkey tail is Polysaccharide K, or PSK – and is approved in some Asian countries to treat cancer. Patients either drink PSK in tea or take it in capsule form. Studies show that the compound in turkey tail does indeed strengthen the immune system. Nature provides relief for many things that ail us – as the use of this humble mushroom in medicine demonstrates.
Summary Of The 7 Mushrooms That Grow In Poop
|Dung Bird’s Nest
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Martin Hibberd/Shutterstock.com
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