Mushroom Canoe Is Rooted In Nature

Mushrooms might be the most contested pizza topping after pineapple, but can you build a boat from pineapples? Probably not, but you can from mushrooms. Mushrooms, or rather their mycelium root systems, can be used for things like packaging, insulation, and furniture, and it could be the next thing in floatation, too. Just ask [Katy Ayers], a Nebraska college student who built an eight-foot canoe molded almost entirely of mycelium.

[Katy] got into mushrooms when she was tasked with researching solutions to climate change. She loves to fish and has always wanted a boat, so when she found out that mycelium are naturally buoyant and waterproof, she decided to try using it as a building material.

[Katy] floated the idea by the owner of a local mushroom company and they got to work, building a frame suspended in the air by a hammock-like structure. Then they covered the boat’s skeleton with spores and let it proliferate in a hot, humid growing room. Two weeks later, they had a boat made of live mycelium, which means that every time it goes out on the water, it spawns mushrooms. The total cost including tools was around $500. The boat experiment spawned even more mycelium projects. [Katy] has since experimented with making lawn chairs and landscaping bricks from mycelium.

Don’t want to wait to grow your own mycelium boat? You can build one out of stretch wrap, packing tape, and tree branches.

Thanks for the tip, [ykr300]!

Main image by Katy Ayers via NBC News

38 thoughts on “Mushroom Canoe Is Rooted In Nature

  1. Are there health hazards from breathing in heavily, due to physical exertion, around a much higher than normal concentration of mycelium spores ? I guess what I’m asking indirectly is do mushroom farm worker need to wear any special safety equipment ? Or there are no known risks ?

    Mycelium spores are in every breath you take normally, but that would be at a much much lower concentration.

    1. Mushroom farm workers have to protect themselves when the mushrooms go to spore which is a very short part of the grow cycle. Mycelium, which is the body of the organism, is not harmful to people. Mushrooms are a little tricky to understand, we try to use analogies to trees which is incorrect because they are fundamentally different life forms. The mycelium is not the root system of the mushroom, it is the entire organism. While plants and animals have different cells for different systems fungi that make mushrooms just have mycelium. The mycelium can express in different ways morphologically such as a mushroom or a sclerotia which is a wierd underground structure that scientists think is a nutrient reservoir. In summary mushrooms are super wierd and cool and we know barely anything about them.

      1. Exactly. The mycelium has been out of sight growing and eating long long before we see anything most of us would would recognize as fungus. Mushrooms (the fruiting body) are just the fungus’ naughty bits, and they only come out to spore for a very short time when it’s time to get busy.

        I was hoping this article was about mushroom leather I’ve read about. I’d love to learn how to make that stuff. This boat is super cool, though. A boat shaped fruiting block is brilliant and that woman looks like such a happy nerd paddling it across the water, and I love it. That feeling when your harebrained idea actually works out is so great you just can’t help but have that giddy, DGAF-about-what-people-think-grin plastered on your face.

        1. I haven’t found any public papers on the leather, there are a few private companies working on it. My best guess is they grow mats of mycelium and compress them, the trick is growing aat of mycelium and removing the nutrients or enticing it to grow away from nutrients somehow. If I had to guess this boat likely used reishi mushrooms, same as the leather. It’s a great candidate for this kind of application because the mycelium grows readily in all sorts of nutrients and has really tough cell walls, when you cut through it on an agar plate you can actually feel a little resistance. Not sure why, maybe higher chitin content.

    2. Pulmonary aspergillosis can be a problem if you turn rows of compost to facilitate decomposition, but in doing this you are creating clouds of particulates. The moulding process above seems quite different and rather more benign in terms of the biological hazard. Pneumonitis is another issue from mouldy organic material, i.e. spreading mouldy hay.

    3. Mushroom spores behave like detritus or dust. They go where the wind blows (or where they fall). Do you need a special mask to live in your house or walk around a downtown sidealk? – because they all share the same inhalation risks (next to zero, unless you live with asthma or emphysema).

    4. Mold is a migraine trigger for me. A visit to a mushroom fest, where I was surrounded my mushrooms but didn’t ingest any, produced a massive migraine. I suspect I would be unable to use this canoe except perhaps when wearing a respirator.

      1. All mold is fungus, but not all fungus is mold. Mushroom growers fight mold all the time since the conditions for growing mushrooms are also great for growing mold, and mold will ruin a grow so quickly. I’d bet the mushrooms weren’t the problem, but all the mold that got brought with them. Mold is literally everywhere, sorry it makes you utterly miserable. A headache is bad enough, I can’t imagine a migraine.

  2. Several years ago there was a startup company making packaging material this way: you put the item in a box along with some porous small material that was inoculated with mushroom spores, and two days later you had something just like styrofoam, only eminently biodegradeable. It was too slow to be commercially viable, but I thought it was a great idea.

    Huh after a quick bit of googling it looks like quite a number of companies are doing this. IKEA is shipping some stuff using this, and Ecovative is apparently shipping quite a bit of priduct.

  3. Neat, I missed this awesome article, great application albeit not a lot of details from the source. Fungi in general are not as well detailed and culturable as bacteria for instance. Last I left off with micro work, I was amazed and appalled at the state of affairs.

    What originally inspired me to potentially study Medicinal Chemistry as a graduate student; were the gaps in microbiological organisms identification, taxonomy and more-so medicines available to counter infections or used as therapies to treat disease… though from a more N.D. D.O. perspective first… then M.D. perspective with last being the organic or inorganic synthetic chemistry routes.

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