Be careful, Gnome! Mean mushrooms ahead!

Be careful, Gnome! Mean mushrooms ahead!

I don't know about you, but I take it personally when science changes its mind about things I thought I knew as facts. Brontosaurus is not a real, correct species name?! Pluto is no longer a planet of our solar system?! The blue whale is not the largest organism on earth?! Aaaarrrrggghhhh!

That largest organism thing makes the mighty blue whale seem positively miniscule. In Oregon's Blue Mountains is a fungus that spreads over just about four square miles, or 2,384 acres (a blue whale is a measly 110 feet long). The giant "Armillaria ostoyae" is estimated to be 2,400 years old but could be as much as 8,650 years old. It's kind of a rough character, as well. The fungal species causes a root disease that kills off entire stands of conifers in regions of the US and Canada. It grows along tree roots, wrapping tiny filaments around them, then actually excretes digestive enzymes that kill the host tree--it is, in a sense, eating forests! The huge example in Oregon is all cellularly and genetically connected, so it is technically one individual organism, affectionately named "the Humongous Fungus." Kind of makes me re-think those Shiitake mushrooms I was going to stir fry tonight...

In a further insult to my sixth-grade foot stamping mandate that the things I learned be true and constant...the blue whale isn't even in second place for largest organism...there is a 6,615-ton colony of a male quaking aspen tree and its clones on a Utah mountainside that qualifies as one organism covering 107 acres.

Now, about this global warming thing...

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About The Author

Andrew Mersmann's picture

Andrew is the author of Frommer's global guide to volunteer vacations, "500 Places Where You Can Make a Difference" (Gold Medal Winner from Society of American Travel Writers: Best Guide Book 2010). He spent more than a decade on the editorial team of PASSPORT Magazine. He has volunteered and led teams on service projects around the world, and is honored to be on the boards of directors for the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation ( and Mentor Artists Playwrights Project ( Mersmann has been a featured speaker, interview guest, or moderator on several travel talks, from the New York Times Travel Show, Smithsonian Associates, and the 92nd Street Y-TriBeCa to Oprah and Friends, Animal House, and The Focus Group on satellite radio as well as on NY1 television. Past participant at the Clinton Global Initiative and judge for Condé Nast World Changers Conference, he blogs about volunteering and service travel at As part of the evox television team, he is dedicated to audience engagement, so if you're not engaged, he needs to be thumped on the head (gently)...or at least told (nicely). Twitter: /ChangeByDoing

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