Block of the Week: Mycelium

Dig into the mysteries of a different kind of dirt

What’s the largest organism on Earth? What’s the oldest organism on Earth? They may both have the same answer. What’s weirder still: it’s almost entirely invisible.

Go up into the forested slopes of Oregon’s Blue Mountains, and you may well be standing on it. It covers almost 9.7 square kilometres - an area roughly three times the size of Central Park. It’s a single fungus known as A. solidipes, part of the honey mushroom family - named after their colour rather than taste. The mushrooms themselves sprout from dead trees, but each mushroom is only a tiny part of a much larger organism, all of them connected by a web of tiny strands that stretches through the soil. That web is collectively known as the mycelium!

The network of mushrooms that make up Oregon’s A. solidipes is estimated to be between 2,400 and 8,650 years old - potentially a lot older than all of humankind’s recorded history.

In Minecraft, mycelium is represented as a type of dirt block, covered in grey-purple strands and emitting strange particulates. Predictably enough, mycelium blocks occur naturally in Mushroom Island biomes, and though they aren’t very good for growing most crops - they can’t even be hoed into farmland - mushrooms spread here easily, and in any light level.

Of course, you now know that any mushroom that grows on a mycelium block is probably part of the same fungal network that connects all adjacent mycelium blocks - making the humble mushroom the largest organism in Minecraft as well as the real world!

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