Alexis Williams


Paul Stemets talk notes

Paul Stemets talk notes

Paul Stamets talks about how mushrooms can help save the world at the Toronto Botanical Gardens. 

Notes taken during Paul Stemets' talk about how mushrooms can save us all.

Paul Stamets




Me and Paul. This was a wonderful day. Paul Stamets, THE celebrity mycologist gave a talk at the Toronto Botanical Gardens this week on how mushrooms will help save the world. He crammed an overwhelming amount of fascinating scientific information and ideas & motivational speech into 2 hours. He was delivering information from the universe. The ingenious ideas he presented, all based in mycology and all designed to avoid human extinction were fueled by a genuine love for humanity. I was on the verge of tears through out the talk.


I went to this talk with James and we were both moved close to tears.  I took lots of notes for you. Here is a synopsis of the 2 hour talk, or at least a point form stream of consciousness. Watch his 20 min ted talk.

Paul Stamets delivered this information to us from the universe. He did not deny having eaten lots of magic mushrooms, but came across as a very intelligent and accomplished scientist. His innovative ideas where obviously fuelled by the desire to help people.

Amadou. As soon as he hit the stage, he introduced his hat. Made from a tinder birch conk by a Transylvanian company. 

He began the talk by encouraging us all to challenge authority. He spoke of the scientists early in his life who supported, inspired and encouraged him. Though-out the talk he insisted that we not be afraid of failure. I often give similar advise to artists: do everything. The more you do, the more successful you will be. Later I saw a painting on Meredith’s wall that said `Aim for the moon. Even if you miss you will end up in the stars` Pauls point was that it is the successful ideas that are important, not the failures. He spoke of cultural courage. 

Primates ability to identify huge numbers of mushroom species.

Something about persephone’s purple flower being a mushroom.

Otzi, the 5300 year old iceman was found with two polypore mushrooms in his pocket. One was the birch conk that Pauls hat was made from. I used this mushroom while I did a parasite cleanse in the winter (along with several other mushrooms and herbs) The Iceman, we presume had it on him to start fires or for its anti-parasitical properties. I know that this mushroom can be used to sharpen blades. Paul showed us a photo of the iceman’s mushroom and it was tethered by a leather strap which makes me think it was more that an ingredient or kindling.

Beneficial viruses: Curbolaria married with a particular fungus, living in a grass or tomato plant creates a thermotolreance that the plant would not otherwise have allowing the plant to withstand surprising temperatures. I would like to understand further how this works. Paul suggested that these virus/fungus/plant relationships contribute to how humans respond to different climates. He encourages travelers to eat local food to benefit from these infections. This idea reminded me of the non-photosynthetic Indian Pipe flower Monotropa uniflora that uses a mushrooms mycorhizal relationship with a tree for energy. (I’ve also heard that they only grow where a wolf has peed) Anyone know about this?

The mycelial networks of forests are responsible for the bidirectional flow of nutrients. Their importance in forest life is often overlooked. They prevent soil erosion, direct and distribute nutrients and act as bimolecular decomposers.

Psathyrella aquatica the first known gilled mushroom that grows under water. They use bubbles to float spores in the current.  I have found mushrooms near my house that grow under water but always assume they were there before the water. Next fall I will pay closer attention.

Fox fire. Bioluminescent honey mushroom. I forget what he said about it, but if you like I’ll post the zine on bioluminescence and growing glow in the dark mushrooms I made last year. James and I are talking about finding the perfect bioluminescent species to introduce to his families land in an attempt to mark Om paths with glow in the dark mushrooms! Did anyone on here get a glow in dark mushroom kit from me last year and have photos?

Nuclear Forest Recovery Zone    Hideous gomphidius, a mushroom that accumulates large amounts of radioactive compounds is being used to clean up the spaces around the recently compromised nuclear plants in Japan. Paul says his idea, which has been put in place, will take 100s of years to finish the job but is far better than any other idea in place. (Seems like it’s the only one) He says that when there is a disaster, people look to him for mycological ways to help. I think he had just spent 5 days talking about mycoremediation to clean up oil spills and to clean water sheds and soils and so did not spend much time talking about the concept. He did describe how mycelial fibres are used as microfiltration membranes on farms to clean water.

Educated mycelium. bimolecular communication. Comet nuclei. He spoke about how mycelium and slime moulds communicate. I do not understand how this works with mushrooms apart from it being suggested that we could use mycelium as a new internet. I have read about how slime moulds learn and quickly adapt to changing environments by communicating information to each other. They have been run through mazes and are impressively efficient.  Paul Stamet suggested we use them to solve design and engineering problems. If you are interested in Slime moulds my next big artistic endeavour will be all about them so stay tuned.

Cobwebs of dark matter. This note refers to the similarity of the structure of mycelial webs and the structure of galaxies.

Mycelium mineralizes rocks, breaking them up to create soil.

Paleomycology  I would like to know how plants came back after according to the pleantological records showing they were twice whipped off the face of the earth, which was left in the hands of mushrooms. I suppose the answer is simply that they were not completely whipped out, their populations only radically diminished, and over time they have reamerged. The “whipped out periods” being evolutionary bottlenecks.

AGARICON. This is Paul Stamets favourite mushroom. It is the longest living mushroom (150 years). As I understand it, it lives as a mycelial state in a tree for ages, keeping the tree healthy and free of viruses, bacteria and parasitical fungus. When the tree dies the Agaricon has it all to itself and the fruit body, a bee hive shaped polypore lives for a very long time further. The mushroom was used by Native Americans to treat tuberculosis, small pox and other disease.  Apparently when hunting the Agaricon one looks for a bald eagle and a snagged tree. (I suppose a tree that host Agaricon dies of injury, not disease) He suggested the importance of preserving this rare mushroom for the sake of anti-bioterrorism (as small pox still exists for the sake of bioterrorism) and was able to convince the American government to protect old growth forests as a matter of national defence!  Paul Stamets owns the largest Agaricon culture collection with many strains. They are so rare he only harvests the fruit if the site is threatened with destruction, but instead takes a culture and grows it in his lab. I have vowed to send him a culture if I ever find one.  He spoke about this mushroom’s importance to native shamans, in mythology and medicine. The Ghost Pilot Bread (Agaricon Man), a character in a story too rude for Paul to share with us, was the only one who could help raven find her vagina.  He began to speak of carved Agaricon burial statues, which having studied burial statues in the past am interested in but I missed this part of the lecture because I’d drank a cup of tea and a bottle of water and had to pee.

Oh then this part really surprised me. The outer, waterproof layer of Artist conks are used as bandages for burn victims!  What? How is this possible? Mark and I both being mushroom geeks and burn victims but having never heard this. I wonder if our close proximity to mushrooms contributed to our fast and thorough recoveries.  Paul told the sad story of his mother’s acute breast cancer. The cancer was far along and inoperable, so the doctors suggested she try a mushroom supplement. This mushroom supplement is produced by Paul Stamets himself! She started the treatment and no longer has cancer!  Listening to this story I realized that I did not have a flu or cold all winter. This is very unusual. I wonder if it is thanks to my frequent use of Chaga, Artist conk, turkey tail, and birch conk tea.

Paul spoke so quickly he stumbled over his words. After two hours my head was full of ideas and was getting close to saturation. He was sad when his time was up because he had so much more to tell us. He briefly mentioned his life boxes – Cardboard packing boxes infused with seeds and spores. (last year I gave my dad a jar of Paul Stamet’s shitake spore chainsaw oil that inoculates stumps as they are made which will produce medicinal mushrooms for us and speed up the decomposition of the stumps, healing the forest and redistributing what nutrients are left by logging industries.

Paul has hundreds of ideas to heal the environment.  I suggest his book Mycelium Running, and watch his TED talk.