REVIEW of Chasing the Rain
F. Lockwood's Marvelous World of Mushrooms
by Jeff VanderMeer on March 06, 2008
F. Lockwood strikes me as being a little like the Indiana Jones
of the mushroom world. He goes out to all kinds of exotic locations
to study and photograph fungus. In the process, he brings back
evidence of a world far stranger than we could imagine. Lockwood's
photos have appeared in publications all over the world, including
The New York Times, and he's appeared on numerous TV
and radio shows. His latest book, Chasing the Rain,
is a compendium of alien beauty here on Earth. I talked to Lockwood
via email recently, asking him about all things mushroomy.
What, in your opinion, is the world's strangest mushroom, and
Lockwood: That is hard because there are so
many strange ones. Two groups I really like are the Cordyceps
and the Stinkhorns. The Cordyceps because they control the proliferation
of insects as well as make them do strange things before they
devour the insects from the inside out. Some Cordyceps are not
only specific to the species of insect host that they will attack,
they might be specific to the body part, leg or joint that they
want to host upon. Other Cordyceps can make an insect climb
up a tree to better spread the spores when the fungus fruits
out of the insect's body. Stinkhorns fool insects into spreading
their spores by attracting them with brightly colored bodies
and a smelly spore mass. The insects land on the sticky mass
of spores and unwittingly carry them off to other habitats.
One thing you can be sure of is that there will be many more
surprises as we find out more about the Kingdom of Fungi.
Do you ever feel that you're exploring something alien, not
of this world?
Lockwood: The best part of the deal is that
they are part of this world. I believe that my work is about
finding and photographing natural beauty that we humans haven't
seen before...[That said,] I think that it's likely that there
is a googol of fungus spores floating around the universe. This
could very well be from a tangential impact hitting the Earth
or other terrestrial body and blasting spores into space. Certainly
all spores firmly attached to a meteor or meteorite would burn
up upon entry to a planet with an atmosphere. However, there
is always the possibility of drifting on their own in the planet's
shadow or during a "cool" era like after the dinosaur-exterminating
"winter". At this point it's all a matter of numbers.
Many species or fungi can and do exist as filaments of single
cells without having to fruit into larger (and more vulnerable)
bodies. This would certainly help their chances of survival
in a new habitat.
Amazon.com: What made you so interested in
mushrooms to begin with?
Lockwood: It was just a matter of place and
timing. I moved in 1984 to a small northern California coastal
town in the rainy season and "discovered" them. I
was fascinated by the beauty and variety that I saw. Through
other "mushroom people" and mycologists that I met,
a whole new world opened up to me.
Are mushrooms being affected by global warming? If so, in what
They certainly are. Many species will come and go depending
upon the temperature, amount of moisture, and the plants and
animals that they might have symbiotic relationships with.
Do you think architecture could benefit from incorporating some
of the designs in the fungal world?
Lockwood: They already have. Mushrooms are
the most common builder of a roof (the cap) that protects something
underneath it (gills and spores) from the rain. The conical
roof and central pole is a common construction theme in may
tropical areas of the world. They look like mushrooms and nothing
else. Our notion of a sloping roof that sheds the elements was
probably inspired by mushrooms. Also Buckminster Fuller might
have developed his ideas from the round forms of the basket-shaped
stinkhorns. One that we have on the west coast is Clathrus ruber.
Another found in subtropical areas (like Florida) is Clathrus
Were you surprised when scientists found that mushrooms were
in some ways closer to animals than plants?
Lockwood: Not surprised but proudly amused.
Is there anything approaching a "fossil" or other
pre/historical record of mushrooms and fungus? Yes there are
but they are rare because of their soft body structure. There
are several specimens of mushrooms preserved in amber though.
I believe that they are up to millions of years old.
If you had to extrapolate into the future as to the evolution
of fungus and mushrooms, what do you they will be like in fifty
Lockwood: That will completely depend upon
what we as humans do to the Earth. Whatever happens, they will
survive long after we do.
What projects are you currently working on?
Lockwood: I have just returned from three weeks
in the Brazilian Atlantic rain forest. It was a great trip.
I'm also working on logging hours of video right now as I'm
about to put together Chasing the Rain, the video, together.
And, I will probably produce the next book (title under wraps)
to Press Page.