Fungi NOT from Yuggoth

Some mushrooms I found in 2013 at Ganoga Lake, PA during my annual assessment of that waterbody.

There are certain phrases and subjects HPL uses to create his unique mood and atmosphere  in his stories such as the “gibbous moon” or “gambled rooftops”.  Another subject HPL frequently uses to convey is ideas and concepts is that of fungi.  Here is a sampling of some of the ways HPL uses fungi:

“Those fungi, grotesquely like the vegetation in the yard outside…”

…”uncanny shapes and distorted, half-phosphorescent fungi.”

“….and a feeble phosphorescence from the detestable fungi within, showing the dripping stone of the walls…”

“…mildew-tainted hard earth floor with its obscene fungi;”

“..a light brighter than the glow of the fungi..”

“a viscous yellow ichor to ooze from the white fungi…

This is just a few of the numerous times HPL mentions fungi in his stories.  Words frequently associated with the fungi include “obscene”, “grotesque” and “disease”.  However, the one phrase that always grabbed my attention was “phosphorescent fungi”.  I always found this fascinating whenever I came across this in any of HPL stories.  Indeed, phosphorescent fungi have been well documented in both the United Kingdom and the United States.  These fungi have been known as torchwood, punkwood or, as in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, fox-fire (R.T. Rolfe & F.W. Rolfie; The Romance of the Fungus World, 1974).

Phosphorescent fungi in decaying wood, called fox-fire (photo by Mark Brighouse from ngm.nationalgeographic.com)

There are approximately 100,000 species of fungi and approximately 70 of these species are phosphorescent.  More specifically, these species are “bioluminescent”, meaning that there is a chemical reaction in these fungi that produces light.  This is a relatively simply biochemical reaction where the enzyme luciferase oxidizes the organic molecule luciferin, resulting in emitting light.  In addition to fungus, a wide variety of other organisms are bioluminescent, including certain species of marine algae, adult krill and some sea squirts (Ian M. Suthers and David Rissik; Plankton: A Guide to their Ecology and Monitoring for Water Quality; 2009).

The fungus Neonothopanus gardneri (photos by Cassius V. Stevani, IQ-USP, Brazil; http://www.mongabay.com)

In addition to frequently mentioning phosphorescent fungi in his stories, HPL also specifically refers to these organisms in his poem, The Ancient Track (The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H.P. Lovecraft, Edited by S.T. Joshi; 2013).  Here are two passages from that poem:

“Straight on I walked, while all the night

Grew pale with phosphorescent light,

And wall and farmhouse gable glowed

Unearthly by the climbing road.”

and

“The fox-fire glowed in field and bog,

And unkown waters spewed a fog

Whose curling talons mocked the thought

That I had ever known this spot.”

I wonder if maybe during one of his many nocturnal walks HPL strolled by a wooded area or cemetery in Providence where the faint glow of fox-fire grabbed his attention and imagination.  Well, at least during those evenings when a gibbous moon was not high in the night sky.

Next time, the discussion will definitely review some of the other species that were being studied by the Great Race in their ancient Cities.  Thank you – Fred.

While technically not a “Terran fungus”, do the Mi-Go use a similar enzymatic bioluminescent pathway to communicate through colors and lights?  (Artwork by Steve Maschuck)

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