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The Story Book of Science by  Jean Henri Fabre


 

 

CHAPTER LXV

THE ORANGE-AGARIC

[317]

"M
USHROOM seeds, or spores, form on these gills, these points, and on the walls of the tubes of which these holes are the orifices. I recommend to Jules the following experiment. We will take some mushrooms whose caps are not yet thoroughly spread. We will place them this evening on a sheet of white paper. During the night the blossoming will be finished and the ripe seeds will fall from the gills of the agarics and the tubes of the boleti. To-morrow morning we shall find on the paper an impalpable dust, red, rose, brown, according to the kind of mushroom.

"This dust is nothing but a mass of seeds, of spores, so fine that they cannot be seen separately without a microscope, so numerous they cannot be counted. There are millions and millions of them."

"A microscope," interrupted Emile. "Is that the instrument
[Illustration]
Binocular
Microscope
with which you sometimes look at things so small that the naked eye can scarcely see them?"

"Yes. A microscope enlarges the objects seen through it, and shows them to us in all their details [318] of structure, although they would be hidden from the unaided eye by their smallness."

"Will you show us through the microscope the mushroom spores when I have collected them on a sheet of paper?" asked Jules.

"I will show them to you. One spore is enough, under
[Illustration]
Spores
favorable conditions of heat and moisture, to germinate and develop into white filaments or mycelium from which will spring at the right time numerous mushrooms. How many mushrooms would be produced if all the spores that fall by myriads and myriads from the gills of a single agaric were to germinate? Here again we have the story of the cod, the louse, all the feeble creatures, in short, that reproduce their kind in such immense numbers."

"To have mushrooms, then, as many as we want, it is only necessary to sow the spores?" Jules again inquired.

"In that you are mistaken, my dear child. Up to this time mushroom culture has been impossible, because the care required by their excessively delicate seeds is not understood by us, or may even be beyond our power. Only one edible mushroom is cultivated, and even in growing this we use not the spores, but the mycelium.

"They call it the hot-bed mushroom. It is an agaric, satiny white above and pale rose beneath. In the old stone quarries near Paris they make beds [319] of horse manure and light earth. In these beds they put pieces of mycelium known to horticulturists under the name of mushroom-spawn. This spawn ramifies, pushes out numerous filaments, and from these finally spring the mushrooms."

"Good to eat?"

"Excellent. Among the mushrooms we gathered are those that I am going to acquaint you with.

"Look at this first of all. It is an agaric. The upper surface of the cap is a beautiful orange-red; the gills underneath are yellow. The stalk rises from the bottom of a sort of white bag with torn edges. This bag, called volva, at first enveloped the whole mushroom. In growing and pushing above ground, the cap broke it. This kind, they say, is the best of all, the most appreciated. It is called the orange-agaric.

"This other agaric, likewise orange-red, and also provided with a bag or volva at the base of the stalk, is called the false orange-agaric. Would you not, however, think it was the same kind?"

"I don't see much difference, for my part," responded Claire.

"Nor I either," said Emile.

"I see a difference," Jules declared, "but it is very slight. The second agaric has white gills, while the first has yellow."

"Jules has sharp eyes. I will add that in the false orange-agaric the upper surface of the cap is sown with shreds of white skin, debris of the torn volva. The other one has not these shreds, or very few.

[320] "If one did not pay attention to these slight differences, one would commit a very fatal error. The first mushroom is a delicious viand; the second, or false orange-agaric, is a deadly poison."

"I am no longer surprised," said Jules, "at your telling Simon that it is impossible for us, without long study, to distinguish the good from the bad kinds. Here are two mushrooms almost as much alike as two drops of water: one kills, the other is excellent."

"Not a year passes without its lamentable cases of poisoning, from a confusion of the two kinds. Remember carefully their characteristics, so as not to expose yourself some day to a terrible mistake."

"I will be very careful not to forget them," Jules promised. Both orange-agarics are orange-red and have a white volva or bag. The eatable orange-agaric has yellow gills; the poisonous one, white gills."

"Besides," added Emile, "the poisonous orange-agaric has numerous shreds of white skin on the cap."

"Look at this other that I picked from the trunk of a tree. It is a large, dark-red boletus. It has no stalk. It fastens itself to old trunks by one of its sides. It is called the tinder-agaric boletus, because its flesh, cut in thin slices, dried in the sun, and made flexible by hammering, makes tinder."

"I did not dream that tinder came from a mushroom," said Jules.

"The truffle is the most important of eatable mushrooms. It grows under-ground, like the myce- [321] lium that produces it. Its odor betrays its presence. A very keen-scented animal, the pig, is led into the wood. Enticed by the smell of the subterranean mushroom, the pig roots with its snout at the spots where the truffles are hidden. Then the pig is driven away, but to console him they throw him a chestnut; and finally the precious mushroom is dug up. In its shape the truffle bears no resemblance to ordinary mushrooms. It has a bulky round body, wrinkled, and black flesh marbled with white."


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