Living organisms, a secret room and a chair – Part 4

CHOOSING THE RIGHT FUNGI

Q.
We’ve talked about biofabrication, asked the question Why?, and delved into the beautiful design of the chair, but what’s missing is the key ingredient – the fungi!

Peter, I imagine the type of fungi is vital in the success of this chair. Can you tell me what fungi you’ve chosen, why you choose it, where it comes from and, is it safe?

 

A.
I needed a fungus that would thrive on wood shavings, since filling The Edge with manure would probably have ended things rather quickly! I also wanted to grow something robust and strong. I remembered seeing brightly coloured bracket fungi growing on dead logs while walking the dog through the forests on the Sunshine Coast. It became apparent how tough this fungi was when I tried to prise some off to take home and place artistically in the garden (as you do).

A quick search of my backyard turned up a few likely prospects, and I knocked them off their logs, took them into The Edge and started growing them on agar plates. Agar is a jelly like stuff made from seaweed, which keeps things moist and can be mixed with whatever food source you require. They took off! Fungi just want to grow, it seems.

Once I had them growing, I scoured Fungimap to find out what they were, and sent my preliminary ideas to a kind expert at the Queensland Herbarium. He confirmed that I had cultures of Pycnoporus coccineus which is a beautiful orange bracket fungi, and Laetiporus portentosus which is a very robust and tough white one – so tough, that Aboriginal people used this fungi as tinder to start fires that could be carried and moved, and would smoulder all day. I felt I was onto a winner!

The third one turned out to be Schizophyllum, it grew the fastest, but unfortunately not a fungi that we’d like to keep around at The Edge. Schizophylum is being used by some European designers for their biofabrication experiments, but they have managed to get hold of a sterile form, with no potential health problems.

The Pycnoporus is used in industry (they extract enzymes from it to make beer), and shows even some promise in detoxifying contaminated soils – it eats PCBs apparently. This is the one I am concentrating on now, mainly because I like the colour.

 

Image Credit: Arthur Chapman “Pycnoporus coccineus (Orange Bracket)

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