[This week, being Thanksgiving, no field trip. However, John, who is developing his mushroom skills, visited Seabranch State Park near Pt. Salerno where he photographed the fungus Ganoderma lucidum, and researched it. He’s the brains behind this post, for which George is the typing assistant.]
The word Ganoderma strikes terror into the hearts of South Florida palm gardeners. Recently Professor Monica Elliott from the University of Florida gave a lecture at Palm Beach State College describing Ganoderma Butt Rot in palms. The culprit is Ganoderma zonatum. Many hardwood species suffer Butt Rots too, and today’s Ganoderma can be a hardwood butt rotter. If you are Asian, however, “Ganoderma“ has a more positive ring to it. Stay tuned on that. First, some boring but necessary taxonomy.
Fungal taxonomy is messy. Within a species the variation of morphological forms and the environmental influences on shapes and colors can be bewildering: “those can’t be the same species!” Butt they are. Today’s Ganoderma lucidum is an case in point; seen broadly it is the center of a species complex and is understood poorly. The entire genus has been an historical classification nightmare, with several hundred “species” named around the world, most of them probably belonging in synonymy (that is, redundant). Part of the nightmare comes from medicinal principles attached to—and patented with—species names. The nomenclatural mess got so out of hand that a prominent mycologist in 1994 proposed a decade-long moratorium on naming new species in Ganoderma. So for present purposes, let’s say Ganoderma is a large worldwide genus of wood-decaying fungi best known as “bracket” or “shelf” fungi, although the shelflike “conk” is not their only form of spore-producing body, which can resemble a mushroom, although the underside will have pores instead of the usual gills.
Ganoderma lucidum is prominent species in Asian medicine, known as Ling Shi in China and as Reishi in Japan. Its applications are ancient, diverse, highly commercialized, and embraced by modern medical research. Among the many traditional applications are treatments for high blood pressure, diabetes, respiratory disorder, cancer, and fatigue. One of the joys of botany is seeing traditional medicinal applications carry forward into contemporary therapies. Mainstream cancer-related Ganoderma research focuses largely on diverse effects on the human immune system.
What struck me about John’s findings is how many different threads extend from the same fungus found around the world: photogenic “mushroom” in a state park, cousin to dreaded tree disease, traditional Asian medicine, and potential pharmaceutical. Every living thing has a story, yet so often we just rush past and say, “oh, look at the pretty mushroom.”