Don't look now, but there's a humongous fungus among us

Armillaria ostoyae, Honey Mushroom, Humongous Fungus -

Don't look now, but there's a humongous fungus among us

On October 9 we headed out for a 3,444-mile foray across the northern U.S., from west to east, to visit national forests and see the mushroom sites. (Along the way my son-in-law Mike and I also stopped at 8 coffee roasters and a half dozen brew pubs. Mike is a true coffee connoisseur, and the daily caffeine overdose was a small price to pay for his extremely helpful participation in my schemes.)

First stop on our seven-day itinerary was the Malheur National Forest in northeast Oregon, home of the world's largest single living organism, an Armillaria ostoyae (Honey Mushroom) infestation in the pine forest. While many mushrooms coexist peacefully with trees, this one basically eats them. Unless it's late summer/early fall and the mushroom is fruiting, the only evidence you will see of its existence is plenty of dead or dying pines.

According to National Geographic, the largest infestation (and there are several separate infestations in this general area) covers 2,385 acres (nearly 4 square miles). It is estimated to be at least 24 centuries old, and possibly as ancient as 8,650 years, making it also the planet's oldest living organism.

This all sounds quite dramatic, but the truth is that unless you're there when it's fruiting, there's really not much to see. Just a lot of dead and dying trees. As usual, of course, the organism is largely hidden underground and in the trees.

Mike and I joked a lot about how we might be eaten by this enormous fungus, but the truth is that it grows very, very slowly, spreading out at only about 3 inches per year.

Even so, it's virtually unstoppable. In tens of thousands more years, it might actually swallow up a large portion of the forests of northeast Oregon.

See Mushroom Obsession's Facebook page for more reflections and photos from our adventure.

One of the questions most asked online is, how do you get to where this fungus is growing? Since we were unable to ascertain any clear directions online, we thought this a good opportunity to give our readers a clear, step by step approach:

Coming in from the Seattle area, we traveled south on interstate 5, then east on 84 to Pendleton, before turning south on 395 to Mt. Vernon. From there we headed east on Hwy. 26, through the quaint town of John Day and into Prairie City, where we stopped at the Ranger Station for instructions. Armed with their helpful information, from there we continued east on the 26 until we were in the Malheur National Forest.

 About 16 miles east of Prairie City, watch for the Forest Service Rd 2635 (Clear Creek Rd) sign on the right, as pictured. Turn right (south) onto this gravel road and travel about 7 miles until you see dead trees on the right. (If you hit the hairpin turn on the map, you've gone at least a mile too far.) Here's a Google Maps link to the exact spot, from the Ranger Station in Prairie City:

Also see this map on the National Geographic site which gives the outline of the Humongous Fungus. (About seven miles in, FS 2635 touches it on the right side as it heads down south toward the hairpin.) Also note several other "smaller" A. ostoyae infestations noted on this map.

For more on the Humongous Fungus, also see these interesting articles:


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