Monday, September 27, 2004

Science: Largest European Mushroom is Swiss and Carries a Funny Name

A fungus that has been discovered in a mountainous Swiss national park area near the Ofenpass might be the biggest mushroom of Europe, scientists of the Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Countryside have declared.

The record-breaking fungus is a Honey Mushroom (armillaria ostoyae) and spans an area of 35 hectares (86 acres) or the equivalent of 35 football pitches. It is believed to be roughly 1000 years old. It is considerably smaller than another fungus of the same species that has been found in a national forest in Oregon, U.S. that measures 890 hectares, the largest living organism ever discovered.

The Honey Mushroom is mostly an underground network of threads the size of shoelaces. What is usually perceived as the mushrooms, the stereotypically shaped hats and stems standing above ground, are only the genitals of the fungus, rising out of the soil to spread their spores once they are mature.

In German, the Honey Mushroom is called "Hallimasch," a name derived from its medical function. Eaten raw, the Honey Mushroom can have the effect of a purge, thus its name "Heil im Arsch" or cure-in-the-bottom.

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