In the naming of life forms, common names are yang, and scientific names are yin. That’s without exception. One of the things that makes common names yang is that they are easy to remember. In my quest to learn our local wild mushrooms, I was quite stymied by the fact that very few mushrooms have common names. I decided to take a page out of my own book—Feng Shui for Hawaii Gardens.
On page 137, in a section about plant names, I say this: “You can use any name from any culture that you know of, or you can invent your own name for the plant.” So, I’m now making up common names for our mushrooms that don’t have common names. I’m not trying to impress anyone with being able to say long Latin names—all I want to do is have a way to recognize that I have seen a particular kind of mushroom.
In addition to giving myself permission to give mushrooms names that I can remember, I’ve also given myself permission to write those names in our identification guidebook. But the truth is, I haven’t been able to do that yet. I’m still using sticky notes to write my made-up names on.
The sticky notes poke out the edges of the pages and I arrange those notes to make it easy to find the right page for the mushroom I’m looking for. Mushrooms that grow directly out of the dirt have their notes poking out of the bottoms of the pages (symbolically close to the ground). With mushrooms that grow out of the vertical sides of tree trunks (like shelf mushrooms)—I put their notes poking out of the side of the pages. And when the mushrooms grow on logs that are horizontal, I put the notes on the top part of the page (like the book is the log they’re growing on). If the mushroom is dark colored, I darken the note.
It’s working! The latest mushroom that I picked to bring to the house to identify—well, just as soon as I turned it over, and saw the unique beauty of the gills underneath the cap, I knew it was Polyporus. It is the only scientific name that’s easy for me to remember. Poly means many (like Polynesia), and porus refers to how the gills are arranged—like pores, instead of like umbrella struts, which are how the gills of most mushrooms look.
Natural beauty, itself can be yin or yang, mostly depending on how big it is. A rainbow or a sunset is much more yang than a small (the one in the photo is 47mm in diameter, a little over an inch and a half) discrete Polyporus. The top of the cap has a thatched look and a dimple in the center—quite yin.