Good afternoon team. This week’s mushroom is Pleurotus ostreatus, the Oyster Mushroom. You may know it from the grocery store but it is also one of the most common mushrooms in the park. As we enter the growing season you’ll see them popping up all over. The specimen pictured was found on 12/9/2020 growing on a stump just off the east drive at 77th Street, but I’ve seen this fungus all over the park and city so keep your eyes peeled.
P. ostreatus grows on every continent besides Antarctica and fruits spring through fall. It is saprophytic and consumes dead wood, predominantly from deciduous trees, but one interesting feature of this fungus is that it is also carnivorous. Several, and possibly all species of Pleurotus, produce minuscule drops of poison that infect and kill nematodes - small worms in the soil - upon contact. They then inject their hyphae (filamentous strands - the body of the fungus) into the nematode, dissolve the insides, and consume the dissolved innards. Fascinating, and if you’re further interested in the process you can read the recently published Scientific American article listed in the references.
Another interesting aspect of P. ostreatus is that many people have hopes of using it to help clean up soil and environments laden with toxins, PCBs, and heavy metals. Research is ongoing and optimism is varied. I will say that in Entangled Life, by Merlin Sheldrake, he is able to grow P. ostreatus using only his book as a substrate and he also references an experiment where they were grown exclusively in used cigarette butts. They’re definitely able to thrive in adverse environments and it seems like there’s great potential for them to help us heal our planet. It’s comforting to think this fungus could already be doing this remediation right here in the park.
Have a pleasant week,