dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog random header image

Is the Earth’s Largest Living Organism Here in Oregon? Maybe

December 26th, 2019 by dk

Scientists believe the planet’s largest living organism lives in eastern Oregon. It’s not Bigfoot, but that was a good guess. It’s a mushroom, or a fungus that’s related to the mushrooms you buy in the grocery store. It covers approximately 2,500 acres in the soil of Oregon’s Blue Mountains.

Nobody knows exactly how old this giant Armillaria ostoyae is, but guesses range from 2,500 to 9,000 years old. That would make it both larger and older than any other living organism. The mycelium is essentially a network, but all its tendrils share the same DNA fingerprint. (Yes, apparently you can have a fingerprint without having a finger.)

Tom Volk, a biology professor at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse, explained what constitutes an organism to Scientific American this way: “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.”

I would never get into an academic argument with a tenured biological scientist. I don’t have that kind of time on my hands. But I can think of a living organism that almost fits Volk’s definition, is definitely larger than our local hero mushroom, and is nearly as old.

Thebes, Egypt has been a continuously populated city for about 5,000 years. The oldest and largest organism I am proposing here is not in Thebes. It’s not near Thebes. It is Thebes. Cells have been in communication for common and coordinated purposes since 3,200 BC. It covers approximately 36 square miles — nine times larger than our fungus neighbor.

We can quibble about whether a city actually qualifies to be considered a single organism, but I’m suggesting Eugene should start thinking of itself that way. We haven’t been a city very long — about three years, by my calculations. ( And so it’s completely understandable that we might not yet be familiar with a city’s common and coordinated ways.

When you live away from a city, you can keep to yourself and so can your neighbors. Any interactions are purely voluntary. But when things start to get crowded and complex, suddenly every action has a reaction that may affect somebody else.

Suddenly, we’re all in this together, having to coordinate our ways. We start timing our shopping trips to avoid traffic. We turn right three times, because turning left is difficult. We wait for others who are ahead of us, or hurry because of the line behind us. It’s only after we see these inconveniences are unavoidable that we begin to shed the stress they can cause.

We become more tolerant of others, because they are flesh and blood beside us, not dismissible abstractions. Time becomes more fluid, because nobody has complete control of their journey. (As if we ever did.) More people lead to more options. Life gets richer.

Try thinking about it that way when you find yourself fighting for a parking place at Trader Joe’s, when all you wanted to do was rush in and buy a package of mushrooms.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

Tags: No Comments

Leave A Comment

Are you human? *

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.