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Star Mushroom

Useful for a variety of important functions, Star Mushrooms are symbiotic with Trees of Life

Content Warning: Mention of Psychoactive Drugs
  The Star Mushroom is a parasitic fungal species that grows exclusively on the bark of Trees of Life. They are easily recognized by their smooth blue translucent surface, their eerie bioluminescent blue or green glow, and most significantly, their enormous size. A typical mature mushroom in a given fungus is roughly the size of a stack of townhouses; and indeed, creatures often hollow them out and make homes for themselves. This seems to have no detrimental effect on the mushroom, although such homes are, by nature, somewhat temporary, as the mushroom dies when its spores are released. However, as long as the fungal mass remains intact, another mushroom will soon sprout nearby when the conditions are right.

Basic Information

Anatomy

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Universal Veil of the Star Mushroom, with Cosmic Moss in Foreground by Pexels

A mushroom develops from a nodule, about the size and shape of an ottoman, which is typically found on or near the surface of the Tree of Life's bark. It is formed within the universal veil (7), the mass of threadlike filaments that make up the breadth of the whole fungus. The nodule enlarges into a round structure of interwoven filaments roughly resembling an egg, called a "button". The button has a cottony roll of filaments, a "bump" in the universal veil, that surrounds the developing fruit body.   As the egg expands, the universal veil ruptures and remains as a cup (5) at the base of the stalk. A second layer of tissue, the partial veil, covers the bladelike gills (2) that bear spores. The partial veil breaks when the cap (1) expands, and remnants of the veil may remain as a ring (3) around the middle of the stalk or as fragments hanging from the edge of the cap. The stalk (4) (also called the stipe, or stem) is central and supports the cap in the middle.   The mushroom gills begin attached to the top of the stalk, but as the mushroom matures, they become detached, like on a puffball mushroom, and the cap can be easily removed without damaging the stalk.   Since the flesh of a Star Mushroom is thicker and denser than smaller mushrooms, it does not have the same fragile texture. Instead, the Star Mushroom feels more like thick boiled leather when encountered in the wild. This is probably necessary to support its enormous size.

Genetics and Reproduction

Like most mushrooms, Star Mushrooms reproduce by creating a fruiting body -- the part that we think of as being the actual "mushroom" -- which bursts to spray the surrounding area with spores. These spores can spread over vast distances in space. The fruiting body is triggered to erupt by a sudden shower of solar or cosmic radiation, likely because this increases the chances that the spores will be carried over a greater distance through space by the cosmic winds.   A unique benefit of being a parasitic species of Trees of Life is that spores can also embed themselves into the hexagonal stigmas and stamens of a Starseed or Starseed ship. Thus, when a male Starseed travels the Airts, he often inadvertently spreads Star Mushroom spores in addition to his pollen; and a female Starseed, when she takes root, already has Star Mushroom spores ready to hand, to begin growing on her bark when she becomes a tree.   Star Mushroom spores, despite the size of the adult fungus, still propagate as microscopic particles, resembling blue-glowing dust or pollen in aggregate.

Growth Rate & Stages

A Star Mushroom begins life as a blue-glowing spore that takes root in the bark of a Tree of Life. Over time, these spores grow into a complex web of filaments, known as the universal veil. These filaments appear first as a glowing blue coating over the surface of the tree's bark, perhaps glistening through a carpet of Cosmic Moss, but over time, they expand to large, visible veins of luminscent electric blue, weaving through the bark's cracks and rough patches.   Eventually, a light blue button, about the size and shape of an ottoman or large pillow, begins to develop in the veil. The button glows a bioluminescent green in dim light or darkness. This sprouts into a fruiting body that becomes the "mushroom" part.  
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Immature Star Mushrooms by Rainforest World
An immature fruiting body still gives off a green glow, signifying its undeveloped state. Its stalk is spindly by comparison to the adult growth, with an oversized, flat cap. Green glowing bodies produce immature green glowing spores. As the mushroom matures, its stalk thickens, and its crown curves down towards the surface of the tree, becoming gradually more conical. Its natural bioluminescence also shifts from green to blue.   A fully mature Star Mushroom will have an almost spherical, translucent blue crown, and a thick green-blue stalk, with a bright blue bioluminescent glow. This stable structure can be shaped into a small dwelling without harming the fruiting body.   When triggered by solar radiation, the mature body bursts, showering the area and ambient space with its spores. This usually takes a few decades, once the fruiting body is mature, and is signified when the mushroom develops a pulpy texture and ragged edges on its crown. Ideally, spores are carried by the solar wind into the Void, or they are carried off by nearby Starseeds when they break free from the Tree of Life. This cycle can span centuries or even millennia, with a variety of factors, such as solar winds, celestial orbit, ambient radiation, or the proximity of nearby Starseeds, affecting fungal development.   As long as the universal veil remains undamaged, the mushroom itself can live for eons; perhaps as long as the Tree on which it grows. New fruiting bodies will mature and burst over time. It is likely that the fungal body will not normally die until the Tree of Life itself does.

Ecology and Habitats

Star Mushrooms grow exclusively on the bark of Trees of Life. They will grow in atmosphere on immature trees, but do not usually produce fruiting bodies until the tree is fully mature.

Dietary Needs and Habits

Star Mushrooms feed on old bark and other decomposing materials on a Tree of Life's surface. This might include microbial lifeforms, Cosmic Moss , other fungi, or once-living creatures that made their homes on the surface of the tree.

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Additional Information

Domestication

People who live among Star Mushrooms often carefully collect their spores for recreational, medical, magical, or commercial purposes.

Uses, Products & Exploitation

The spores of an immature Star Mushroom, distinguished by their green bioluminescence, are hallucinogenic and euphoric, containing a psilocybin compound. Beings throughout Known Space use them for religious rites, seeking visions, and recreation. They may be used in some variations of Sylsani (Feywine) for their euphoric effect, especially among the Sluagh. Green spores are contraband in most spaceport cities.  
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Star Mushroom Anti-Toxin by Mystic Art Designs
When the mushroom body matures, signified by the spores shifting from a luminescent green to a luminescent blue, they lose their hallucinogenic compounds, and gain a property that is arguably much more useful -- the ability to absorb and dissipate harmful radiation. Blue Star Mushroom spores are widely-sought as ingredients in potions and tinctures to cure radiation poisoning. Beings and animals living among mature Star Mushrooms naturally have an extremely high radiation tolerance, simply from inhaling and accidentally ingesting the spores in their ambient environment.   Fruiting bodies often emerge several kilometers from each other, and immature mushroom bodies are unsuited to natural housing due to their spindly stalks, so they are typically avoided, except by farmers, mystics, and thrill-seekers. Immature fruiting bodies do not burst, but their spores do drift over the immediate area.   While the flesh of the mushroom is edible, the challenge of eating something with the texture of boiled leather deters all but the truly desperate or adventurous. However, if sliced into pieces and boiled for several hours, the mushroom can make a bitter, nourishing stew. Cooking destroys psilocybin compounds, so this is not a good way to experience the mushroom's recreational or mystical properties. It does, however, continue to impart an increased resistance to radiation.   Spoiler from Book 3: Brothers in Arms
"There better be potions," he mumbled, spitting out a bit more blood and slime. It looked like he might not even make it back to the Sword of Courage at this rate. And of course, this was assuming they were going in the direction he assumed they would--back home. Maybe they had chosen to go somewhere else.   He finally found the manifest exactly where it was supposed to be; clipped to the wall. He had to bring the lantern right up to it to see it properly.   He almost swooned in relief when he saw it, appropriately listed under "Medical Supplies".   Crate #1074:
  • (24) Healing Potions
  • (24) Anti-Toxin Potions
  • (24) Curing Potions
  "Two each for a full crew," he sighed in relief. That was good. It had just occurred to him that the whole ship might be contaminated, and he might have to take them for a few days while the spindizzy slowly worked the contamination out of the ship.   Shaundar weaved his way over to the crate in question with a crowbar. He had no strength in his limbs. It took him way longer than it should have to pry it open. He had to work slowly, first at one corner, then another, then a third, and so on, until finally the nails tore free with a squeak.   He grabbed one of each and knocked them back. The first one tasted like peppermint and willow bark. The second tasted like dry powder and something bitter, and it glowed faintly blue. The third tasted like fresh spring water and radiated a faint silver glow.   Warm and cool sensations flooded through his body in waves. Suddenly he was too exhausted to keep his eyes open anymore. I'll just rest right here for a moment, he thought, and then he didn't think about anything else for some time.
--Brothers in Arms by Diane Morrison

Symbiotic and Parasitic organisms

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Green Jewel Bug by Artbreeder
Various insectoid and animal lifeforms, such as the Jewel Bug , and sentient beings, such as Gnomes, Elves, and Ratatosk , choose to make their homes in Star Mushrooms. Jewel Bugs, attracted by the bioluminescence, help spread spores; as do sentient inhabitants.   Some bird species might also choose to nest in a previously hollowed-out dwelling, but will not make habitats of their own.
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Star Mushroom Spore Burst
Video by Oleg Gamulinskiy
Diagram of a Star Mushroom
The enormous, several-stories tall Star Mushroom is structured much like any other mushroom. This diagram breaks down its parts and discusses its life cycle.   Diagram and descriptions by Alesander Tremayne.
Scientific Name
Psilocybe Praegrandis Astra
Lifespan
  • Eons for the universal veil (the organism itself)
  • Several decades for a given "mushroom" (fruiting body of the organism)

Conservation Status
As with its host species the Tree of Life, Elves are fiercely protective of Star Mushrooms. As a result, there is a thriving black market trade in Star Mushrooms and their products, especially those used for healing or recreational purposes.
Average Height
Fruiting bodies reach an average height of about 20 meters, or somewhere between 60-70 feet
Average Weight
Roughly 120 kg or 300 lbs per fruiting body
Average Length
  • Fruiting Body -- 3 meters or 10 feet diameter
  • Cap -- About 5 meters or 16 feet diameter
  • Organism -- up to thousands of km

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Mature Star Mushroom by OpenClipartVector

 

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How does a giant tree that is inevitably the sole member of its kind in light-years, reproduce itself? Assuming that they truly are trees, how does pollen pass from one tree to another to produce Starseeds?



Cover image: Star Mushrooms by Frank Pfeiffer

Comments

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22 Mar, 2021 08:29

MUSHIES! Everybody loves mushrooms, right?

Author of prize-winning RPG settings Dark Shadows and Cinders of the Cataclysm. Designer of the narratively focused Celenia D10 RPG System.
22 Mar, 2021 17:25

Mushrooms are practically alien entities anyway. It really made too much sense not to use them. And I got my stream to vote on a few options, and this was the one they wanted! :D

Author of the Wyrd West Chronicles and the Toy Soldier Saga Eater of pickles, Friend of nerds, First of her name
Eternal Sage AmélieIS
Amélie I. S. Debruyne
22 Mar, 2021 08:34

Mushroom! Bioluminescent ones even! This is very cool, I love this article :D I love the pictures and you even have a video! And I love imagining the universe as being filled with tiny invisible mushroom spores floating everywhere.   Some of my reactions/suggestions I got while reading:   Having temporary homes that can disappear sounds very stressful! Can this happen at any moment or can people predict when this will happen?   The anatomy paragraph could be smoothened a bit I think, since you're introducing the universal veil twice. I'm also wondering where this veil comes from. I presume it's just something floating everywhere in space? A tooltip here might be useful to give more info – ah I understand with the text lower that it's the mushroom itself that just assembles into a "real" mushroom just for the time to reproduce. I think it can be clarified in this first section. Anyway, I think that that idea is very cool – is it the same for normal mushrooms?   Is the mushroom a unicellular organism that just grows together in colonies and sometimes form the real mushroom bits? In that case the number of cells grows overtime when the mushroom spreads, but the "individual" itself would be the cell. So the colony of mushroom would have a very long lifespan but not the individual cells, right? How long does that cell last before dying? Or did I misunderstand something? Anyway, that could be cool details to add if you have any words left!   If you have the time and the will to do so, I think a schema to show the name of the different part of the mushroom would be useful. You don't need anything too artistic, just a quick drawing made by a character would be cool. Or using the same image of your mature mushroom and adding annotations.   You say "as the egg expands…. the veil breaks. As the cap expands…. the veil ruptures." Varying sentence structure a bit more would help here.   You say that by necessity the flesh of the mushroom is thicker and denser than normal mushroom. Is it because it grows in the void and so it needs some protection? If so I think it could be more explicit.   "the mature body bursts, showing the area" I think you mean "showering".   A tooltip might be useful at "psilocybin" since I looked the term up - but then they just say the same info you gave in the previous sentence, so maybe not.   I like the properties of the spores! This is very cool that people get some radiation immunity just by living nearby. Do they also inhale immature spores daily too? Or are those spores released in lesser quantity/only at certain time?

22 Mar, 2021 18:17

These are all great suggestions, thank you very much!   I have to say, it's really hard to explain how a mushroom works, and it's twice as hard when you're trying NOT to use a bunch of nonsense words that are technical to modern scientific study of the things, and mean nothing to anyone not engaged in the field - as everything I was reading seemed to do. I'm half-convinced that Victorian naturalists made up a bunch of words in bad Latin so they would *sound* like they knew what they were talking about when they were first studying them! ;) (You can probably confirm; this is your field, right? Or do your studies extend to mycology?)   You're right; I clearly need a schema. There is a significant naturalist character in the world who can be the author of the diagram.   Yeah; nobody wants to explain what psilocybin actually is, but I'll add some tooltips, that's a good thought. :)   Made a few changes and will incorporate more over the next few days. If you like, I'll ping you when I get the diagram up. Thank you so much for your very useful help!

Author of the Wyrd West Chronicles and the Toy Soldier Saga Eater of pickles, Friend of nerds, First of her name
24 Mar, 2021 03:35

Okay - made several updates! The only one I couldn't find was the "varying sentence structure," so if you can point that out to me with title of section & which paragraph underneath that it was, I'll tackle that too. Did my schema as a MAP! And I even included the map captions under each label in my word count; still 2200 words-ish, only! :D Thanks for all the suggestions!

Author of the Wyrd West Chronicles and the Toy Soldier Saga Eater of pickles, Friend of nerds, First of her name
Eternal Sage AmélieIS
Amélie I. S. Debruyne
24 Mar, 2021 07:51

I love the new sections and your drawing is great!   For the varying sentence structure bit, I just meant that you have two sentences starting with "as" rather close to each other, so I would personally changed the second one. The section I meant is "As the egg expands, the universal veil ruptures and remains as a cup at the base of the stalk. A second layer of tissue, the partial veil, covers the bladelike gills that bear spores. As the cap expands, the veil breaks, and remnants of the partial veil may remain as a ring around the middle of the stalk or as fragments hanging from the edge of the cap."   And yes, people did start using Latin to make up new scientific words because that was how clever things and elevated topics were supposed to be talked about, and we still do.

25 Mar, 2021 11:40

Fixed!   Latin doesn't exist in my universe, though. Maybe when I've done enough conlanging, I'll make names in Draconic (the scholar's language) or High Avalonian (dead language). ;)   Thanks again, Amelie!

Author of the Wyrd West Chronicles and the Toy Soldier Saga Eater of pickles, Friend of nerds, First of her name
23 Mar, 2021 00:59

You have no idea how happy I am to see a mushroom entry. :D I love the idea of huge, bioluminescent fungi. I think you've walked a really good line between scientific and layman's terms here. I also really liked the little quote from book 3. :D

Emy x   Welcome to Etrea!
23 Mar, 2021 03:05

:D Thank you very much, Serukis!

Author of the Wyrd West Chronicles and the Toy Soldier Saga Eater of pickles, Friend of nerds, First of her name
23 Mar, 2021 12:15

These mushrooms are fantastic!! I loved reading about them, they sound so cool and beautiful.

Author of Interarcanum.
24 Mar, 2021 03:36

Thanks TC :D

Author of the Wyrd West Chronicles and the Toy Soldier Saga Eater of pickles, Friend of nerds, First of her name
23 Mar, 2021 15:47

Gigantic mushrooms that are usable as houses is such a nice idea! I bet they look beautiful to with the blue glow coming from the top.   The entire solar radiation protection and the fact that animals living near the mushrooms can develop it as well is a nice use of this mushroom. For the releasing of spores you mentioned that it was released by a sudden shower of radiation, is it only during solar flares that it occurs then or by any type of radiation burst?   In all this was a very interesting plant article ! :)

Feel free to check out summer camp overviewif you want to see what I am up to!
24 Mar, 2021 03:40

Thanks for catching that! No, it's any cosmic wind, really. Amended :)

Author of the Wyrd West Chronicles and the Toy Soldier Saga Eater of pickles, Friend of nerds, First of her name
15 Apr, 2021 16:01

Anti-radiation medicine sounds real useful, no wonder there's such a large black market around them!

Too low they build who build beneath the stars - Edward Young
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