The Fungal Evangelist Who Would Save the Bees

Pollensammlerin

How mushrooms could solve colony collapse disorder.

Merlin Sheldrake | NAUTILUS

Photo by Shelly Hanks / WSU Photo Services

If anyone knows about going fungal, it’s Paul Stamets. I have often wondered whether he has been infected with a fungus that fills him with mycological zeal—and an irrepressible urge to persuade humans that fungi are keen to partner with us in new and peculiar ways. I went to visit him at his home on the west coast of Canada. The house is balanced on a granite bluff, looking out to sea. The roof is suspended on beams that look like mushroom gills. A Star Trek fan since the age of 12, Stamets christened his new house Starship Agarikon—agarikon is another name for Laricifomes officinalis, a medicinal wood-rotting fungus that grows in the forests of the Pacific Northwest.

“Oh my god.” Stamets woke up. “I think I know how to save the bees.”

I’ve known Stamets since I was a teenager. Every time I see him I’m met with a flurry of electrifying fungal news flashes. Within minutes his mycological patter picks up speed, and he leaps between bulletins almost faster than he can talk, a ceaseless torrent of fungal enthusiasm. When Stamets was a teenager, he suffered from a debilitating stammer. One day, he took a heroic dose of magic mushrooms and climbed to the top of a tall tree, where he was trapped by a lightning storm. When he came down, his stammer was gone. Stamets was converted. Since his influential work on psilocybin mushrooms in the 1970s, he has grown into an unlikely hybrid between fungal evangelist and tycoon. His TED Talk— “Six Ways that Mushrooms Can Save the World”—has been viewed millions of times. He runs a multimillion-dollar fungal business, Fungi Perfecti, which does a roaring trade in everything from antiviral throat sprays to fungal dog treats (Mutt-rooms). His books on mushroom identification and cultivation—including the definitive Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World—continue to provide a crucial reference for countless mycologists.

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