ABC NEWS– Walking through the Malheur National Forest in eastern Oregon you would be hard pressed to notice it. But a fungus spreading through the roots of trees now covers 2,200 acres, making it the largest living organism ever found.
Popularly known as the honey mushroom, the Armillaria ostoyae started from a single spore too small to see without a microscope and has been weaving its black shoestring filaments through the forest for an estimated 2,400 years, killing trees as it grows.
“When you’re on the ground, you don’t notice the pattern, you just see dead trees in clusters,” Tina Dreisbach, a botanist and mycologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station in Corvallis, Ore., said Friday.
The outline of the giant fungus, strikingly similar to a mushroom, stretches 3.5 miles across, and extends an average of three feet into the ground. It covers an area as big as 1,665 football fields. No one has estimated its weight.
“There hasn’t been anything measured with any scientific technique that has shown any plant or animal to be larger than this,” said Gregory Filip, associate professor of integrated forest protection at Oregon State University and an expert in Armillaria.
Dead Trees Reveal Fungus
Until now, the largest known organism was another Armillaria ostoyae found in 1992 in Washington State. It covered 1,500 acres near Mount Adams.
“We just decided to go out looking for one bigger than the last claim,” Filip said.
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