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Fatal Fungi, Friendly Fungi


13" x 17"

Fungi are neither animal nor plant but are a member of eukaryotic organisms that include yeast molds and mushrooms. I have been fascinated by these complex organisms because they are vitally important to our ecology. Furthermore, their balance or imbalance can cause upheavals for humans and entire natural biomes. 


The four friendly fungi I have chosen, all help our health and environment. Penicillium, an antibiotic, kills a wide range of harmful bacteria. Mycellium are tiny threads which weave around and into plant roots creating mycorrhizal networks which aids plants by transferring water, nitrogen and other minerals. Aspergillus niger produces an enzyme which can convert grasses into ethanol, a biofuel. Fusarium neocosmoporiellum is a fungus which can break down crude oil spills into harmless hydrocarbons.


The four fatal fungi have tragically affected humanity. Claviceps purprea affects rye, wheat and other cereal grasses. It creates purplish-black discolored grain kernels which are easy to miss when they are milled and used in bread and beer. Often fatal, the contamination can also cause spasms, vomiting, and hallucinations. We can surmise that in the Middle Ages, many accused witches were afflicted with this fungal byproduct. Aspergillus flavus thrives in improper storage areas and can cause aflatoxin, a poisonous carcinogen which causes stunted growth, liver damage and death. The world changing Potato Blight of Ireland (1845) was caused by Phytophthora infestans and resulted in the starvation of over one million Irish while another two million emigrated away. Amanita muscaria, a red mushroom is as beautiful as it is deadly when ingested. 


This kingdom deserves further study as it is estimated that there are over 2.2 million species of fungus. The many treasures and dangers contained in this kingdom are as yet to be found.  

Penicillium:  Say Ahh


Creating mycorrhizal networks

Claviceps purprea: Rye madness

Aspergillus niger:
Converts biomass to biofuel

Fusarium neocosmoporiellum: Degrades oil spills

Amanita muscaria:
Claudius fed by Agrippina

Phytophthora infestans: Potato Blight

Aspergillus aflatoxin: 
Moldy Corn Liver Failure

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