Fungi has an external digestion method, thus does not photosynthesize (Chambers, 2009). It’s heterotrophic, which means it does not produce its own energy. It obtains energy from dead or living plants and animal tissue. When small patches of fungi sprout out of the trunk of a tree, it is a sign that the fungi is digesting the tree. It appears small against a massive tree trunk, but the fungi will always win the battle of survival against the living trees. A high moisture level is needed for fungi to survive. Many types need a repeated, direct contact with water, and some inflate their cells with water (particularly mushrooms).
Fungi recycles and decomposes nature. When a tree grows, there is an accumulation of phosphorus and nitrogen. When it die, it must decompose for these nutrients to become available for other plants. Fungi has an exceptional ability to degrade durable components, one of the most impressive being lignin, which consists of chemical links difficult to dismantle. Fungi work in teams: certain kinds are designed to go in first and break down the strongest links, whereas others clear the rest. By breaking down material, fungi help plant to re-use nutrients for so to grow on poor soil. This is what makes fungi vital to the rainforest. In average, every square centimeter of the rainforest soil contains traces of fungi, and all fungi, no matter the size, contributes to the welfare of the rainforest. (Chambers, 2009)
The fungi filaments form a shield around the tree root before penetrating. It provides the tree with nutrient, and receives vitamins, proteins and sugars in exchange. Fungi is so important to the growth of the rainforest, that in commercial planting today, seedlings are infused with fungi to strengthen the growth process.
Fungi are sorted into categories based on their relationship with other organisms. Saptrotrophs break down animal and plant remains to release nutrients that can be absorbed by new living organisms. This group’s main job is to recycle. Parasites attack living tissue and absorb nutrients for themselves. Their main job is to feed to grow. Mutualists digest wood to help feed released nutrients back into growing trees. This group works to help other organisms (Chambers, 2009)
A spore is a unit of asexual reproduction. Fungi reproduce by producing spores. What we know as a mushroom is the reproductive body of fungi, and most mushrooms only live long enough to distribute one load of spores. There is no blooming stage, unlike most plant organisms, however, rainforest fungi may have strange shapes and bright, eye-catching colours (Chambers, 2009)
Slugs, snails and insects feed on fungi, but many brightly coloured kinds are poisonous to consume. Bioluminescence fungi has the ability to glow in the dark, due to a bodily chemical that reacts with oxygen. This is the same process as with fireflies. Fungi, in general, are a very visible part of the bushland scenery, particularly in a wet environment. Some scientists believe certain types of fungi to be among the oldest organisms in the world (Chambers, 2009)
Thoughts and reflections
Fungi obtains energy from dead or living plants and animal tissue. After the island population died, the fungi could have grown out in bulk. I could put light inside of them, as a literal interpretation of the life it absorbs. The fungi would also tell a story of absorbed, or captured/suppressed life.
The small fungi will always win over the big tree trunk. It can symbolize the underdogs, which in Starry Night’s case is Plant and Lumi.
Fungi breaks down dead tissue and helps plants grow. In a way, it gives life to the rainforest. I want it’s inner glow to illustrate the life it provides. Because this is exactly what I want my design to portray: the light as a symbol of ability, of potential, of goodness: as the suppressed underdog.
The fact that every square centimeter of rainforest soil has filaments of fungi, can sort of be compared with the fact that there is potential in each one of us. We can all contribute with something.
The fungi is fair. It does its part, and receive a thank you for the trouble. In my design, I want it locked up in the darkness, with its light shining as an outreached hand. Plant is a tree, and the fungi is on Plant’s side. The light as an outreached hand serves to present someone who played by the rules, with kindness, love and most of all joy, and who got stabbed in the back. I want the fungi and Plant to conjure the same emotional effect from an audience as a beaten puppy locked in a basement would. I think the fungi can help me do that. It is amazing what effects you can get from playing with light.
Many bugs feed on fungi. I have been trying to find a way to incorporate something similar to the glow worm caves of New Zealand into my Guatemala design. When I came across Xilbalba, I decided to use the cenotes as the caves, and saved a note in the back of my mind to find rainforest insects that glow in the dark. The fact that bugs feed on fungi, the fact that fungi feed on wood, and the fact that my whole island design is tied together by braided wood branches can together automatically connect the bugs to the underground caves (cenotes). Now, I just need to find the bugs.
Fungi is very common in a wet environment. I wanted my forest design to appear dead (dead branches, no leaves, etc…) at first glance, but as you get in deeper (see past the surface), you will see all kinds of life. I think it flowing water will be an interesting element. Flowing water suggests movement, changes and life, and should provide the forest with nutrient. However, the trees are going to appear dead in my design. This is to symbolize a kind of emotional death, numbness, or agony, rather than a natural one. It is not the environment that is breaking down the island, it is the island’s broken heart that is pulling its surroundings down with it.
Types of fungi
Stinkhorn mushroom/Bridal Veil fungus. Smells terrible. Flies and bugs crawl through its veil collecting spores which is spread throughout the rainforest. Pop up after heavy rain.
Armillaria Bulbosa, once believed to be a type of mushroom, has now proven to be a single organism. It takes up an area of 15 hectares, and is estimated to weigh around 100 tonnes, which is equal to the body weight of a full grown blue whale. Its DNA was tested and found to be over 1500 years old. It has a lot in common with my lonely monster: all the trees on the island are from the same organism, the monster, and the monster has been on the island for over 1000 years by the time my story begins.
The reason I started looking into fungi, was that I needed something to decorate my forest with. I had trees, but I needed more than bark and branches. Originally I wanted to do a lively forest with colourful bugs and exotic flowers. Now, I’m doing a forest that appears to be dead until we move inside of it. So, I needed something to show both death and beauty.
Meet the fungi that made my jaw drop:
I love how this one folds like flower petals. I’m thinking to maybe make them gigantic, sort of like the flowers from Alice in Wonderland (1951, dir. Clyde Geromini et al.), but in big bouquets. Or, very inspired by Tim Walker’s work for O’2nd Spring 2011 Campaign for Sigrid Agren, Julia & Molly
The Hypoxylon Rubiginosum could be used for more subtle detailing. I also like how it appears to drip down the tree trunk.
I like how simple these ones are. Maybe I could use them to create some sort of pattern in the background.