mycelial technology

Growing Forests

26 October, 2018

This is the first part [1] of a two-part essay which first appeared on Scuttlebutt as a response to a question [2] posed by @elavoie [3]:

I think we need a different narrative and symbolism for SSB. I feel it is already emerging in this community: the Tree and its role in a Forest. In the last day, I have seen references to Trees by at least 3 different people in my personal feed. I interpret that as a growing sensitivity to a different approach. How does that new symbol can inform our funding strategies?


I am interested in growing forests. A single tree may perish from disease, insect infestation or a chainsaw, while a forest composed of intricately interconnected and interdependent organisms is far more resilient. Even the ferocity of fire cannot cleanse the forest of life. Indeed, many organisms and living processes have evolved to thrive in the aftermath of such sweeping and sudden change.

In these times of rapidly intensifying climate change, instability and extinction, we must become experts in the cultivation of forests. Forests that will feed us. Forests we can dance and sing in. Forests founded on care and attention. I mean these things both literally and figuratively.

Enter: mycelium. Peter McCoy of Radical Mycology is fond of saying: the mycelium is the message. Fungal lifeforms mine rocks to build soil; they welcomed their plant kin onto the land circa 400 MYA - midwifing the emergence of the botanical lifeforms we see today. Fungi figured out how to hack lignin and are hard at work hacking plastics. They are polymath geniuses of the highest order. I could go on and on (and on and on…).

Let’s take a peek at how fungi grow forests: as a meshwork of single-celled threads, mycelium is incredibly vulnerable to attack by hostile microbes and has evolved numerous defenses. One strategy is the selective cultivation of benefical bacteria on the outer surface of the mycelium. By selecting and caring for these allies, the mycelium grows a bacterial cloak of immunity. It is no surprise then that some medicinal mushrooms have been show to influence humyn gut microflora. But that’s not where it stops…

In designing it’s local microbial community, the mycelium promotes the growth of some plants over others - shepherding the emergence of particular botanical communities. The mycelium itself, along with the mushrooms it produces, are food for insects, worms, birds and mammals. All of these creatures, plant and animal alike, can be thought of as biomass. The biomass ultimately feeds the fungus; falling branches are air-dropped takeout for the mycelial membranes below. You see this pattern in the contrast between grassland and forest eco-systems: grassland has bacterially-dominated soils while forests have fungal-dominated soil. What started off as a bit of humble bacteria farming grew into a complex and resilient system capable of supporting the mycelium and myriad other lifeforms. I think this is basically what we’re aiming for.

That’s all fascinating and stuff, but how do we apply this to @elavoie’s original question(s)?

I’ll highlight a few patterns I see in mycelial biology and ecology which I think apply. I have written about some of these elsewhere in the Scuttleverse (apologies for not including references and images and such).

Part 2: Mycelial Design Patterns.


  1. Cypherlink to part 1: %RRp5H5obsNYHhjSa/2FAxcTiyGGVvhPKAUYYgZTj6hI=.sha256
  2. Cypherlink to @elavoie's original post: %/oFE/AW2HqPTOtQ1UHBBXKzzfZpiEJHGbFcXksxKnPo=.sha256
  3. @elavoie (public key): @IgYpd+tCtXnlE2tYX/8rR2AGt+P8svC98WH3MdYAa8Y=.ed25519