Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Thing in the Garden - a Seed Story from The Museum of Ephemerata

Scott Webel, with The Museum of Ephemerata, out of Austin, Texas recently sent us a thought provoking seed story...from the post, The Thing in the Garden, via their blog, The City of Living Garbage, Do-it-yourself remediation, art environments, and food gardens that thrive on waste.

He recollects the parasitic via a thoughtful parallel examination into the world of mushrooms, soil bodies, and corporate "worldlings" - comprised of glyphosates and genetically modified plants - that we are currently the testing ground for.

Here is the post in its entirely - Thanks Scott for sharing this! 

Thursday June 7, 2012
The Thing in the Garden

Billows of white flesh erupted from the ground. At first the mass doubled daily, then slowed down but kept unfolding. It absorbed other plants, leaving them alive but trapped in its form. It dusted a glass light fixture scavenged from the Cathedral of Junk with its powdery spore. After a few weeks it was a yard across, with shelves of tissue in ripples like a small, solid cloud, an uncanny thing sprouting between the figs and roses in the front garden where the cats poop.

The fruiting sex organs of other fungi have popped up in Ephemerata Gardens. Bird Nests with their tiny cups of spores. Brown umbrellas that open up and rot in a day, bright yellow ones in potted plants and the kitty litter compost. What other cthonic aliens live invisible in the soil? Bondarzewia berkeleyi, the huge Berkeley's polypore, is an edible fungus best cooked when the flesh is young. I learn this on Google and see pics of fungi in dense forests that look like the one in our yard. A museum visitor has a distrubed reaction like the thing scared him, and I realize how fond I am of the mushroom. Something about its unlikely visitation in a "human dominated ecosystem." In a restaurant I overhear a guy reminiscing about his irises. "They died back after we put the fungicide in the yard. Now they're saying iris patches need certain kinds of fungus. They're learning so much about that."

Living soil and its suprises seemed to be endangered. There were reports in peer reviewed journals like Current Microbiology (1) that glysophates, the key ingredient in Roundup and its Chinese knock-offs, were decimating non-targeted soil microbes and mycelia in agriculture fields. Controversy whirled around these texts -- allegations that Monsanto was actively blocking scientific research on its many products' unintended toxic effects while falsifying their own reports, or that the biotech giant was purposefully destroying the biosphere and food security just to maximize its own endless growth, or worse, to kill everyone but "the one percent." Scientific paranoiac visions charged court hearings, public protests, and Occupy Monsanto actions as people tried to get a grip on exactly what the corperation's products were doing to landscapes and bodies. Scientists on both sides of the debate reasoned that lab testing of glysophates and genetically modified plants were always suspect, since things don't work the same in the agricultural fields (e.g., varying in dosage amount, humidity, and the like). Meanwhile the fields themselves were the real experimental labs; the world itself had become the life-size lab.

Like the polypore in our yard this Monsanto worlding turned up in unexpected places. The US Geological Survey isolated glysophates in Mississippi rain (2). Doctors in a hospital in Quebec found BT toxin (produced by a soil bacteria's transgenes in GM corn) in the blood of pregnant women(3). In 2009 President Obama appointed former Monsanto lobbyist and VP Michael Taylor as senior advisor to the head of the FDA. Glysophates and GM seeds drifted to neighboring farms, and GM rice cross-pollinated patented Monsanto gene sequences into organic wild rice in a case of genetic pollution. Because there was no mandatory labeling for GMO ingredients you could hate Monsanto and unwhittingly eat its spawn at the same time unless you can afford all organic. Even then Monsanto corn or cotton might be in everyday objects you touch. You could become obsessed with purging Monsanto, get politically active in an international movement "building a world without Monsanto"(4). Like Climate Change, Monster Monsanto became one of those conspiratorial things you could wrap your life around researching and fearing -- its mafia capital built of commodites that kill, first Agent Orange (to kill people, a commissioned product sanctioned by the state military's monopoly on violence), then DDT, now Roundup and corn (to kill pests, no state sanction required). The corporation's living garbage, polluting the minutia of ordinary life, is facilitating cosmopolitan publics of concern, outraged people who could only come together around a trashed world and its remediation.

Besides their ability to manifest in unlikely spots, mushrooms and Monsanto have another thing in common: they eat the death of other beings. They cultivate certain kinds of landscapes by kickstarting a chain of ecological relations by tinkering with forms of death. Mushroom species are living machines, medicinal or toxic to certain life forms. A few lots down from Ephemerata Gardens they might be cutting back oak trees to build a new house. I need to buy some oyster and shitake mushroom plugs and beeswax. The rainbarrels are full of (glysophate?) rain to keep the logs sodden. Maybe a year from now we'll be eating succulent stir fry.

The polypore's mass has yellowed and is no longer tender. I couldn't dismember and eat the thing anyway. Its mysterious autonomy. Plus it's growing in cat poop.


(1) Clair E, Linn L, Travert C, Amiel C, Séralini GE, Panoff JM. "Effects of Roundup(®) and glyphosate on three food microorganisms: Geotrichum candidum, Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris and Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus." Curr Microbiol. 2012 May;64(5):486-91. Epub 2012 Feb 24.

(2) Chang, F. C., M. F. Simcik, et al. (2011). "Occurrence and fate of the herbicide glyphosate and its degradate aminomethylphosphonic acid in the atmosphere." Environ Toxicol Chem 30(3): 548–555.

(3) Aris A, Leblanc S. "Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada." Reproductive Toxicology (2011), doi:10.1016/j.reprotox.2011.02.004

(4) Combat Monsanto website ( See also GMWatch (

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