Do fungi deserve more respect?

Notes from Planet Earth

Among the former species are the chanterelles, morels, porcini, and truffles. I recently learned that corn smut, an economically important fungal scourge of corn, is also a favored delicacy and that there are folks who raise corn for the specific purpose of raising corn smut for food.

Furthermore fungi play a vital role in the health and drought resistance of our forests and crops, with many species providing trees and shrubs with water and minerals in amounts tree roots would be incapable of alone. While other species are highly important for the work they do in degrading dead wood and vegetation and returning the recoverable nutrients to the soil. If only we were as effective and efficient in recycling our own wastes as our healthy forests are in recycling theirs.

An exciting step in this direction has been taken recently by a small firm located on Green Island near Albany. They are using finely ground agricultural waste to grow a cellulose-degrading fungus in a manner that converts the mixture into lightweight biodegradable forms suitable to use for packaging of articles such as computers and cameras. The result is an excellent substitute for Styrofoam, an un-degradable scourge of our beaches and oceans.

Questions and suggestions from readers are welcomed and will be responded to in future editions of this column. Contact me at cwdingman2@frontier.com.

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