Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Fungi Hunter

On Sunday afternoon, I went out hunting for mushrooms with Housemate H and one of our professors, who among a lifetime's worth of other illustrious achievements, is a complete fungi nut. I shall follow the example of H's very fine blog and call him Dr X.

And, dear readers, I happened to find the rarest mushroom Dr X has ever seen, in thirty years of mushroom hunts. Yes indeedy, that is me holding the object in question in the picture. It is squamanita paradoxa. Its unusualness springs most punnishly from the fact that it is a parasite: it uses another mushroom to grow itself. It bursts, a la Alien, from the interior of something else. Which is why it looks a little like a grafted fruit tree. The other mushroom in the picture, the one nestling in the moss on my palm, is an intact specimen of the hapless human body from which the monster spawn ... sorry, the species of mushroom from which the squamanita has sprung.

I am wracked with guilt. Why is it the vacant-eyed newbie birdwatcher who always spots the ultra-rare red-capped conifer warbler? The casual snorkler who finds a Spanish doubloon under a dead sea sponge? Dr X is beside himself with excitement, but I'd have loved it if he'd spotted it, instead. From a few paces off. Thinks, no ... it couldn't be. A few paces closer. Surely not! Impossible! Only one sighting in UK history! Closer. Confidence dawning. He crouches. He inspects. The hair is standing up on the back of his neck. Egad!

But no. Instead, mushroom neophyte who's basically enjoying the walk around a forest in her wellies casually picks one and says, "Look, this one is cool. Its bottom is different from its top."

Jiminy crickets, readers. I could hide under my desk at the thought. It will be a just punishment if the most notable thing I do this year is find a rare mushroom. A newspaper is doing a profile of the fungi-hunting exploits of academics around here, and Dr X asked me how I would like my research to be described if they printed the shot of me and the mushroom. I laughed manically.

I don't think he knew why.

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