Ironically, the discovery of such huge fungi specimens rekindled the debate of what constitutes an individual organism. "It's one set of genetically identical cells that are in communication with one another that have a sort of common purpose or at least can coordinate themselves to do something," Volk explains.
Both the giant blue whale and the humongous fungus fit comfortably within this definition. So does the 6,615-ton (six-million-kilogram) colony of a male quaking aspen tree and his clones that covers 107 acres (43 hectares) of a Utah mountainside.
And, at second glance, even those button mushrooms aren't so tiny. A large mushroom farm can produce as much as one million pounds (454 metric tons) of them in a year. "The mushrooms that people grow in the mushroom houses&133;; they're nearly genetically identical from one grower to another," Smith says. "So in a large mushroom-growing facility that would be a genetic individual—and it's massive!"
In fact, humongous may be in the nature of things for a fungus. "We think that these things are not very rare," Volk says. "We think that they're in fact normal."