If you're from the Pacific Northwest then you're probably familiar with, or have at least noticed, the vast array of mushrooms, lichens, and mosses that grow on just about everything in the forests. But if you're like me and from outside the region, it can be mind boggling how many different types you might see on a single walk through the woods. A while back I was backpacking in Idaho and decided to go for what I dubbed a fungi walk. There's nothing fancy about doing a fungi walk - I just wandered down the trail from where my camp was setup and kept an eye out for different types of fungus. I wanted to do this because I typically just pass them by without really taking the time to appreciate and look at them. I notice them, sure, but never really look at them.
But why does it matter? Who cares about fungus? I mean, gross, right?
No! Absolutely not!
For one, they look super cool. They come in all sorts of sizes, shapes, and colors. They can be gorgeous or downright hideous. Some are edible, some are poisonous (never eat a wild mushroom unless you are 1000% sure you know what it is!). But more importantly, they play a HUGE role in our ecosystems in the breakdown of other materials. Ever notice where you typically see them growing? I bet the first place that comes to your mind is on dead trees. That's because fungi help decompose dead organisms. They're basically the composter of the forest. They breakdown plant material, putting nutrients back into the soil for the next generation of plants to use and repeat the cycle. Ecosystems need fungi to help keep everything balanced. And balanced is beautiful.
So next time you find yourself wandering through the woods, take notice of how many different types of fungus you see. I bet you'll be surprised with the amazing breadth of their diversity.