I often get asked to paint book and magazine covers, but rarely whole books. When books do come along its difficult to guess what they might be, so I was much intrigued when asked to illustrate a book on cultivating mushrooms.
My knowledge of mushrooms
I have to say that I know absolutely nothing about mushrooms. As far as I am concerned, they only really exist in supermarkets and the more exotic varieties in the posher farm shops.
Occasionally on winter and autumn walks I’ll come across fungi in the woods, though, of course, I have no idea what they are. They could go wonderfully in a soup or put me in my grave, so I leave well alone.
I was pleased this book was titled ‘Growing Mushrooms for Beginners’, so I had an opportunity to learn.
Learning about Mushrooms
I was given a list of the varieties I needed to illustrate and there’s was a brief outline about their natural habitat, and how to grow them yourself . I learned that for the best results you have to simulate that habitat .
For example, King Oyster Mushroom grow out of fallen trees, so the guide suggests drilling holes into logs and cultivating them by pushing the spores into the holes with sawdust.
As I worked through my initial drawings and researched each variety, I discovered that there is a vast number of ways fungi can reproduce and some very ingenious ways of mimicking that process at home.
You can grow Lion’s Mane mushrooms inside plastic bags full of straw and some types of Oyster Mushrooms can be grown on toilet paper.
The Cordyceps killer fungus
This one, in the wild, makes its living by infecting the brains of insects. With Bull Ants it takes over their brain, they then climb high up into trees where the sun is which is not their natural habitat. They then grip a leaf with their mandible which holds them fast, then promptly die.
The Cordyceps grows on and pushes a spike out of the top of their head to release more spores to infect other insects. A zombie horror story.
Cordyceps: The Game!
Creatives have latched onto this killer and the Cordyceps fungus is depicted in video games and novels where a new variant attacks humans.
If you are keen look up the games, The Last of Us (2013), The Last of Us: Left Behind (2014), and The Last of Us Part II (2020), where it causes the collapse of civilisation. You can also find it as a plot line in a novel and film called The Girl With all the Gifts where it also causes the collapse of civilisation.
Anyway, for now it only attacks insects and you can safely grow this monster in a jar. Personally, I’d keep the lid down, but that’s just me.