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AMAZON.COM REVIEW of Chasing the Rain

Taylor F. Lockwood's Marvelous World of Mushrooms
by Jeff VanderMeer on March 06, 2008

Taylor 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.

Amazon.com: What, in your opinion, is the world's strangest mushroom, and why?
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.

Amazon.com: 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.

Amazon.com: Are mushrooms being affected by global warming? If so, in what ways?
Lockwood: 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.

Amazon.com: 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 crispus.

Amazon.com: 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.

Amazon.com: 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 thousand years?
Lockwood: That will completely depend upon what we as humans do to the Earth. Whatever happens, they will survive long after we do.

Amazon.com: 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) in 2010.

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