Grey Globe Mushroom
Those who habitually descend beneath the surface of Kelbonnar’s material plane will be well aware of Grey Globe Mushrooms and the dangers that they present. Though innocuous to look at, colonies of this fungus expel toxic spores, that causes the condition Ash Lung in most humanoids, which unless treated quickly frequently results in death or permanent damage to the respiratory system.
On the surface, Grey Globe Mushrooms appear as a collection of rounded, fleshy protrusions, similar in form to puff-ball mushrooms, though generally much larger in shape, with a more pronounced globular form. The texture of the surface of the globes is often surprisingly smooth, which when combined with their light grey colour has given rise to their commonly known name, Grey Globe Mushrooms. Beneath the surface, the globes are connect by a myriad network of mycelial threads, which provide the nutrient and sensory pathways that allow the mushrooms to cover large areas, sometimes whole caverns or caves if enough food is present. These mycelial threads, though when uncovered and viewed with the aid of a magnifying glass or microscope may look delicate, are capable of pushing their way through not just soil, but even rock, giving them a strong advantage over other fungi in the Underdark. It is a common mistake to believe that a Grey Globe Mushrooms are singular entities, comprising of just the globe form that is visible above the surface, but in fact, the forms colonies, and it is highly likely that all of the globe protrusions visible within a single space are actually a single organism.
Genetics and Reproduction
As with most other types of fungi, Grey Globe Mushrooms reproduce through the release of spores, which settle on new surfaces and grow into new colonies. Grey Globe Mushrooms have evolved to release spores when they sense the approach of creatures entering the area of the colony, and when not attempting to immediately kill the creature for food, they release enough spores to hopefully be breathed in and settle in the lungs of the victim, eventually causing the deadly condition known as Ash Lung, who then carries them to a new spot for a colony to form. The poor, unfortunate creature who breathed in the spores, once killed by them becomes the initial supply of food the new colony needs to establish itself. When exposed to sunlight, Grey Globe Mushrooms immediately release all of the spores stored in their bodies, a defence mechanism thought to be a last ditch attempt to ensure that some of the colony’s strain survive by finding dark cavities or spaces to grow in before they are destroyed along with their parent plant.
Ecology and Habitats
As Grey Globe Mushrooms cannot survive in sunlight, whose very presence instantly withers and kills it, they are only found underground or in permanently, or near permanently dark areas. On the whole, colonies of Grey Globe Mushrooms tend to prefer damper environments, and they thrive especially well in caverns or caves where there are open bodies of water.
Dietary Needs and Habits
Like most other species of fungi, Grey Globe Mushrooms are able to subsist on a wide range of different food sources that to the eyes of most other creatures would look either unappetising, or unable to provide a sufficient amount of nutrients to sustain them. However, Grey Globe Mushrooms have evolved to try and advantage themselves over other fungi by specialising into the consumption of flesh of whatever type.
Uses, Products & Exploitation
Whilst it is thought impossible and impractical to try to domesticate Grey Globe Mushrooms in any sense, partly because of their dangerous spores, and partly because of their voracious ability to spread and multiply as far as their food sources will allow, some species and communities do still find uses for the fungi. To begin with, the appearance of Grey Globe Mushroom colonies around areas that are home to Duergar settlements has led Scholars to believe that wherever they choose to settle, Duergar communities deliberately cultivate Grey Globe Mushrooms to protect themselves and ward off any uninvited humanoids or monsters. As Duergar are the only humanoids to exhibit full immunity to Grey Globe Mushroom spores in observational studies, this use of the fungus is certainly feasible and practical. In addition, in more recent years, there has been an alarming increase in the use of Grey Globe Mushrooms as weapons during assassination attempts. Following the discovery that the fungi immediately release all of the spores stored in their bodies when exposed to sunlight, experiments began amongst underground organisations to collect and store Grey Globe Mushrooms in pitch black containers to keep them alive and then releasing them into an environment where they will be exposed to light and unleash their deadly payload. Organisations such as the White Fangs and the Scarlets are thought to be behind such uses, as are the Imperial Inquisition themselves. The most notorious use of the fungi in this way was in the assassination of Empress Annunziata II in 550AIF, mother of the current Emperor of Turelion and Kelbonnar His Imperial Majesty Belliotrix IV.
Geographic Origin and Distribution
Grey Globe Mushrooms have only ever been encountered underground, and it is thought that they are incapable of surviving in direct sunlight, making encountering them above ground very rare indeed. This does not mean that Grey Globe Mushrooms are rare, colonies of the fungi are regularly found in the subterranean spaces beneath the Spiny Mountains, the Heavenspire Mountains, the Maj’Athar Mountains, the Devils’ Teeth Mountains and the Frost Fang Mountains, as well as being regularly reported as hazards encountered by those from the surface of Kelbonnar few brave or foolhardy enough to venture deep enough to explore the Underdark proper. For one reason or another, Grey Globe Mushroom colonies are particularly common in the underground spaces beneath the continent of Dricaro and the Frost Fang Mountains, something that makes them a serious hazard for mining communities such as Kazskmal, whose prosperity relies on the resources extracted from the ground beneath them. However, there have been a handful of reported cases where Grey Globe Mushrooms have managed to colonise sections of abandoned buildings, primarily where windows and doors had been boarded up to keep out looters or squatters. In all of these cases, however, the buildings in question had access to either a basement floor, or some other underground access, which would have allowed the fungi’s spores to travel into and colonise the space without being destroyed by sunlight.
Whilst Grey Globe Mushroom colonies are certainly not deemed to be intelligent enough for Imperial Scholars to regard them as a sapient species, they do exhibit a form of primal intelligence, through the use of their spores that deserves recognition. The reason for this is that Grey Globe Mushrooms appear to recognise the presence of creatures that habitually tend to appear in the locations that a colony has established itself as either creatures that tend to live an travel alone, and creatures that tend to travel or live in groups or communities. When a lone-operating creature arrives within their area of discernment, Grey Globe Mushrooms have been observed to try and release as many spores as possible, to incapacitate the creature as quickly as possible by literally choking it with the millions of spore particles. However, creatures that the colony recognises as being more communal on the whole, may be allowed to pass with little or no release of spores and it has been hypothesised that either the fungi are hoping that by gaining safe passage, the creature will return with more of its fellows, thereby providing more food for the colony, or that the creature will be able to return to its fellows, carrying the more limited release of spores to a place that has a plentiful food source.
Perception and Sensory Capabilities
Despite not having sensory organs, such as eyes, noses ears etc as humanoids do, Grey Globe Mushrooms exhibit a remarkable ability to detect when creatures approach their colonies and to act accordingly either to try and provide food, an opportunity to spread their genetic material or act defensively as necessary (see below). It is thought that this sensory perception comes from the mycelial network that spreads out for metres from each of the globe parts of the mushrooms, which are clearly visible and give the fungi its name. What exactly the mycelia can sense is unknown, as they are clearly capable of much higher cognitive activity that just establishing the presence of another creature (see below).
Symbiotic and Parasitic organisms
The colonisation of the continent of Zastral by the Empire of Turelion has added a further discovery to Imperial Scholar’s knowledge of Grey Globe Mushrooms. It was discovered that in the subterranean tunnels and spaces of Zastral, Grey Globe Mushrooms have a symbiotic relationship with Yellow Cave Creeper, a predatory reptile native to Zastral and occasionally found in other regions of the Underdark. Not only do Yellow Cave Creepers appear to be immune to the effects of the Grey Globe Mushroom spores, but they appear to have developed a relationship with the fungi whereby, Yellow Cave Creepers make their dens in caverns colonised by Grey Globe Mushrooms, utilising the fact that most other creatures will avoid such areas for fear of contracting the deadly Ash Lung disease from the spores in the air. In return, in order to ensure that the fungi colony continues to thrive and protect them, Yellow Cave Creepers have been observed to drag kills into the shared caves and leave them untouched, so that the Grey Globe Mushroom colony can feed on them instead. Since the discovery of this symbiotic relationship, it has also been found that the blood of Yellow Cave Creepers, whether fresh or dried, provides an effective treatment for Ash Lung and a whole industry has grown up on the continent of Zastral to hunt the reptiles and prepare them to be shipped back to the rest of the Empire of Turelion to provide a cure, albeit an expensive one for the disease.
Though not known for sure, Grey Globe Mushroom colonies are thought to be practically immune to ageing and appear to exist within a location for as long as there is a constant source of food.
The toxicity of Grey Globe Mushroom spores and the vast diversity in the size and shape of their colonies as a whole makes taking any average measurements for height, weight or length almost impossible.