Yin and yang don’t exist separately. They only exist in continuum—as part of a larger context—always as part of a larger concept.
In the context of trees in general, a living tree is a yang thing and a dead tree is a yin thing. But when a tree dies, little yang things start popping up—mushrooms and other fungus. Because they are alive, the fungus is yang, compared to the dead body of the tree that they are growing from. In the context of plants in general, fungus is very yin, especially when compared to tall trees and giant bamboo which are yang because of their height and complexity. (Complexity itself can be yin or yang, depending on the context—don’t get me started on that one, I’d lead us astray from our focus on fungus.)
The big deal for me is that my husband and I have now recently started to eat wild mushrooms that we find in our woods. And we’re not dead yet! I’m usually the one who spots them, because for the last few years I’ve been trying to learn the names of all the different mushrooms that grow on our property. I pretty much know the names of all the higher plants around here (except, of course, the grasses). It’s been hard as nails to try to learn the names of the mushrooms, mainly because most of the mushrooms don’t have common names, and the botanical names are (generally) long and complicated.
Well, the name of the mushroom we’ve been recently eating is not weird or long—it’s Ear Fungus (Auricularia cornea) and it’s totally unmistakable (that why we’re eating it). People have been eating it in Hawaii for a very long time. It has a Hawaiian name (pepeiao) and a Japanese name (mimi naba). It’s not just edible, it’s great—we’re enjoying it a lot and are grateful for food we didn’t even know we had.
The book I’m using to identify the mushrooms here is Mushrooms of Hawaii by Don Hemmes and Dennis Desjardin. If you live in Hawaii, I recommend that you own this book. Notice in the photograph all the little sticky notes around the edges of the pages—they testify to how much I use the book.
Disclaimers: Most people know this by the age of five, but I’ll repeat it: Don’t ever put anything in your mouth that you don’t know is edible. And one other thing, please don’t use our photograph of mimi naba to try and identify it. That’s not the purpose of the photo; the purpose is to show the beauty of the fungus when dappled sunlight is on it.