Humongous Fungus
(Pretend you are walking around the town of Crystal Falls, near the Wisconsin border)

Under the ground of Crystal Falls and surrounding areas lies the “humongous fungus”.  This fungus, Armillaria bulbosa, is thought to be one of the largest and oldest living organisms in the world.  It is second only to Armillaria ostoyae, which is a 1,500 acre fungal clone found in the state of Washington.  Armillaria bulbosa is anywhere between 1,500 to 10,000 years old and weighs about 100 tons.  The “humongous fungus” weighs about the same amount as thirteen African elephants.  Myron L. Smith and James B. Anderson first discovered the fungus in 1988 while doing research for the U.S. Navy.  A research scientist named Johann N. Bruhn then reported on the fungus in April of 1992 in the Journal of Nature, which sparked interest around the world.  Bruhn was quoted as saying, “The fungus is an integral part of the ecosystem, feeding on decayed wood and producing carbon dioxide essential for the process through which plants generate life-giving oxygen.”  Armillaria bulbosa is an extremely common fungus that usually occurs in hardwood forests in North America, Europe, and Japan.  The fungus is a construction of tubular filaments, or hyphae, which began from a single spore that germinated thousands of years ago.  The only way to see the fungus is by looking at mushrooms that grow on the surface above it. These mushrooms, often called honey or button mushrooms, are the edible part of the fungus.  The “humongous fungus” has received much publicity since it was first reported.  It has been featured on national news, the “Late Night with David Letterman” show, and on the side of a U-Haul van. The town of Crystal Falls has even established the “Humongous Fungus Festival,” which has become its claim to fame.  --Meghan Cart

The “Humongous Fungus” on the side of a U-Haul van. Photograph courtesy of Tom Volk.
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Last modified 28 April 2004
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