Deep within the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon’s Malheur National Forest lies an extraordinary organism known as Armillaria ostoyae. Referred to as the “Humongous Fungus” by scientists, this massive entity boasts a total weight surpassing that of 20 Blue Whales. The Honey Mushroom or Shoestring Fungus, as it is more commonly known, has an estimated mass ranging from at least 7,500 tons to potentially up to 35,000 tons. Remarkably, it is also believed to be the oldest organism on Earth, dating back approximately 2,400 to 8,650 years.

Contrary to the misleading image described earlier, the actual appearance of this fungus resembles a white slime that resides both on and within the bark of predominantly Ponderosa Pine trees. It sends out underground black tendrils, only revealing the more recognizable mushroom cap shape during the fall months. In 2015, the largest concentration of Armillaria covered an impressive area of 3.5 square miles of forest, leaving us to speculate about its growth over the past four years.

However, the Honey Mushroom organism possesses a rather insidious nature. It spreads its filaments throughout the root structure of coniferous forests, embedding itself deep within the very core of trees. Armillaria acts as a parasite, gradually depleting the life of its host over the course of years. While the tree succumbs to its fate, the Humongous Fungus sustains its own existence. The expansion of the forest and the stability of the environment have allowed the fungus to proliferate extensively.

According to the classification that defines an individual organism as “a being that consists of genetically identical cells capable of communication,” this colossal fungus fits the bill. Extensive DNA testing has unequivocally established it as the largest single living organism in the world.

As for efforts to potentially safeguard the forest from devastation, Dan Omdal from the Washington Department of Natural Resources offered a pragmatic perspective in 2015. He advised, “Remember, it’s the most formidable fungus around. We are searching for a tree species that can thrive alongside it. Planting the same species in areas affected by the disease would be unwise.” Different tree species, such as Doug Fir, Western Larch, and White Pine, are currently undergoing study to determine if they can coexist with the fungus without succumbing to its detrimental effects.

Alternatively, we can perceive Armillaria ostoyae as an integral part of our ever-changing ecosystem, allowing trees to naturally decay and provide habitats for birds and insects. Embracing the cyclical nature of life, we recognize the significance of this extraordinary fungus and the vital role it plays within the intricate web of our environment.