To me, there is nothing better than a nice pile of sauteed mushrooms nestled up against a grilled steak. But those buttery morsels merely scratch the surface on the beautiful, dangerous and important world of fungi.
The Kingdom: How Fungi Made Our World, airing as part of The Nature of Things on Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBC, is the result of a three-year journey by science documentary director Annamária Tálas that digs deep into fungi, those odd-shaped, sometimes colourful things that are neither plant nor animal and exist much of the time out of sight. Some facts to get you thinking … and possibly freak you out: a fungus in Oregon is 3.4 square miles large and is 2,400 years old. The mushroom you see poking out of the ground is merely the fungi’s fruiting body; the main body is a mass of filaments underground that form the mycelium, a fungal network tied to water, minerals and sugars with trees. Also? Fungi spores are everywhere. Like, on you right now. Yeah.
All of this is revealed in The Kingdom: How Fungi Made Our World thanks to folks like Professor Lynne Boddy, Dr. Mark Fricker, Dr. Anne A. Madden and Professor Rob Dunn, and stunning still and time-lapse photography from Steve Axford. Through their words and images, we learn how fungi have evolved to survive by consuming and recycling matter to feed itself, defending itself against harm, and that experts have only identified less than one per cent of the estimated five million fungi species.
Fungi have been on Earth for a long time. About a billion years ago, the planet began to be populated by microbes that contained bacteria and, eventually, fungi. Those first critters consumed the minerals contained in rocks and established a foothold on the planet. Later, land-bound fungi and marine algae swapped nutrients to start the process of plant-life evolution and the greening of the planet. And, on the opposite end of the life cycle, fungi consume dead plant life that in turn enriches the soil and encourages new growth.
Meanwhile, the fact we’re mammals seems to be the reason why most fungi haven’t killed us already. The Kingdom: How Fungi Made Our World is a truly fascinating, and admittedly creepy, peek at an alien lifeform that has been integral to all life on Earth.
The Kingdom: How Fungi Made Our World airs as part of The Nature of Things on Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBC.
Image courtesy of Stephen Axford.