Among the vibrantly colored flowers and merrily dancing leaves, there lies on the ground—what looks like a small tabletop for fairies—a stalk with a cute button-top hat. It’s the lonesome mushroom.
While most people could merely regard mushrooms as a dangerous or boring vegetable, the Oklahoma Mycological Society (OKMS) would otherwise disagree.
The OKMS is the Tulsa Garden Center’s newest incorporated plant society that solely focuses on mushrooms and fungi. The OKMS’s mission is “to strengthen the conservation, the awareness and the study of fungi throughout Oklahoma,” as it states on their website, okfungi.com.
Creator and Executive Director Ash Shirazi founded the Mycological Society last year and his inspiration started off with a YouTube video featuring Paul Stamets, a mycologist.
“His enthusiasm and his drive [is] to really try to save the human race and try to reverse all of the problems that we have committed. It’s so mindful how the circle of life really is a circle, and fungi [are] at the beginning and the end,” said Shirazi. “Without them, we wouldn’t be here.”
Mushrooms have been found to possess many beneficial benefits for both humans and the planet.
“Mushrooms are very high in vitamin A, vitamin D and are an excellent source of protein,” said Joel Meyers, the director of mycology. “The oyster mushrooms’—calorie for calorie—protein content measures double the protein content for chicken [and] fish.”
Mushrooms also have the amazing ability to train themselves to break down materials they find in a specific land.
“Did you know that you can train mushrooms?” said Meyers. “You can train mushrooms to eat things that they normally would not come across in a while.”
According to Meyers, there is a mushroom known as Pestalotiopsis Microspora that has been shown to consume plastic and break these plastics down.
“These mushrooms are adapting. They’re training themselves,” said Meyers.
Mycologists are hoping to speed this process up and put them in contact with human waste to help eliminate the problems we are facing today. Mushrooms are also capable of cleaning up oil spills and petroleum products.
“Oyster mushrooms, the most commonly cultivated mushroom, is very, very adept at pulling up oil,” Meyers said. “And after it pulls up and sucks up all that oil, you would think ‘Oh, I need to harvest these fruit bodies [mushrooms] and get rid of them,’ but that’s not necessarily the case. When you test these fruit bodies after they pulled up the soil, they do not test positive for that oil. These mushrooms are actually completely taking those molecules apart.”
Fungi are also great decomposers and are nature’s recyclers, according to OKFungi.
Humans would be buried under dead plant and animal tissues without the fungi. They also play an important part in medicine by producing biologically active compounds that are used in medical treatments such as antibiotics, anticancer drugs, cholesterol inhibitors and more.
“I want to shift consciousness. I want people to have access to a healthier choice, a healthier option to an alternative lifestyle that they may have given up hope on ever finding,” Shirazi said, when asked about the hopes of founding the society.
Although the OKMS is fairly new, they have high hopes. Over the course of a couple of months, their followers have grown exceedingly, according to Shirazi.
“We had 520 followers in the last week [with] no promotions at all, no advertisements, no Facebook advertising,” Shirazi said.
For mushroom fanatics, the OKMS has monthly meetings in which they offer classes on classification, cultivating mushrooms at home, foraging and anything one would want to know about mushrooms. They also are planning a mushroom festival later in the fall with local mushroom products, local businesses and tie-dyed shirts.