Throughout history there have been a number of influential—or what we would now call viral—hoaxes relating to mushrooms.

That’s right. Mushroom malarkey. Fungi fraud. Toadstool tall tales. (We could do this all day.)

As ridiculous as that might seem, you’d be surprised to learn that we couldn’t even manage to mention all the mushroom hoaxes that have circulated throughout the years—so we just picked the most interesting ones for this post.

Let’s kick things off with a little nostalgia. If you were on the internet in the early 2000s, you might even remember seeing this one in an email “forward” chain:

Do You Remember Seeing This Photo of The World’s Largest Mushroom?

The world's largest mushroom, a fake digital image from the early 2000s.

Looking at this picture now, it’s comical that people might have thought it was real—maybe over time our “Photoshop senses” have gotten better, having been exposed to so many faked images.

However, in the 2000s, the above image was referenced as being the world’s biggest living life form. Headlines like Oregon’s monster mushroom is world’s biggest living thing hit the news, and people were captivated… especially when they saw the picture.

It’s true that the largest living organism on earth is a fungus. As we’ve written about before here on the Quality Spores website, the fungus is a mycelial mat that lives in Oregon and spans nearly 10 square kilometers. Mycologists believe that it might even be over 8,000 years old.

Journalists apparently weren’t aware—or perhaps they were, and just didn’t care—that calling this mycelial mat a “mushroom” was inaccurate. Mushrooms are the mature fruiting bodies of a fungus, and only one part of the whole organism—much of which presents as mycelium. Nevertheless, this inaccuracy undoubtedly nudged along the plausibility of the picture in question.

The big mushroom image originated from the lab of Tom Bruns at the University of California at Berkeley, which was of course created as a joke. Tom Bruns comically referred to the mushroom in the picture as Boletus photoshopus.

Soviet Chairman Vladimir Lenin Was a Mushroom (Literally)

In 1991, a Russian performance artist named Sergei Kuryokhin managed to to get himself on the television program The Fifth Wheel, which could be compared to 60 Minutes here in the United States—in other words, a pretty legitimate, hard-facts kind of show.

During the course of his interview, Kuryokhin spun a yarn so wild that in retrospect it’s surprising that anyone believed it… but they did. In fact, it’s estimated that an approximate 11 million people saw the interview, and as a result, a large portion of Russian society ultimately believed his claims.

So what was Kuryokhin’s claim, anyway?

He convinced millions of viewers that former Soviet Chairman Vladimir Lenin was, in fact, a mushroom.

Sergei Kuryokhin on The Fifth Wheel.

You can watch the whole interview here on YouTube.

Through a series of semi-believable logical fallacies and so-called sources (including American author and well-known anthropologist Carlos Castaneda), Kuryokhin said that as a result of regularly consuming psilocybin mushrooms, Lenin had ultimately became a mushroom himself.

If you watch the interview itself, you can see how Kuryokhin builds on his case with a number of half-baked but sort of plausible ideas. Here, 30 years later, it all may seem a bit ridiculous, but at the time it caused something of a furor in Russia.

The lesson? Don’t believe everything you see on TV (a repeating theme throughout this post, as you’ll see).

Earth-Shatteringly Fake: The “Aphrodisiac” Mushroom From Hawaii

Famous mushroom hoaxes, the supposedly "orgasmic" Hawaiian mushroom.

Loosely gathered facts based on a vague and unscientific “study” with a tiny sample size? Check.

Clickbait headlines? Check.

Stock images of a pretty woman in a suggestive pose? Check.

Here we have all the trappings of modern sensationalism in journalism. A few years ago, news outlets began publishing pieces with headlines like…

Surely with all these reports, it must be true!

…Well, no. Not exactly. The flurry of news reports about the “orgasm mushroom” that would give any ladies in the vicinity an “earth-shattering experience” just by smelling it is, of course, easily debunked.

The gist of the study was that 36 women and men were asked to smell the “fetid” aroma of the mushroom. 16 of the subjects were female, and just six of them were claimed to have self-reported as having experienced a “mild spontaneous orgasm.” Everyone else, apparently, just thought the mushroom smelled pretty bad.

Christie Wilcox, writing for Discover Magazine, was so intrigued by the story that she actually sought out the mushroom itself.

I bent down, pressing my hands in the soft mulch on either side of the fungus, and let the air out of my lungs. Then I pushed my face next to its orange stalk and breathed in as deeply as I could.

Christie Wilcox, Expedition Ecstasy: Sniffing Out The Truth About Hawai‘i’s Orgasm-Inducing Mushroom

Sadly, no amount of sniffing managed to bring the author’s journey to a satisfying climax. In fact, she ultimately managed to get in touch with one of the supposed authors of the study, John Holliday. Of the orgasm mushroom, he reportedly said, “This was never meant to be believed, it’s just a big hoax.”

As amusing as all this is, the real takeaway here is that one really must think critically when reading the news. As we pointed out a couple of weeks ago, all too often the news media will make mistakes, use terminology incorrectly, or simply report on unverified information and present it as fact. When researching the often-misunderstood subject of mycology, you must keep your wits about you—and acknowledge that not everybody else will follow your lead.

Want Something Real? Try Studying Psilocybin Mushroom Spores

While the stories we discussed here today are fake, it’s entirely real that psilocybin mushroom spores are legal to buy in most of the United States, and you can order exotic mushroom spores online for research purposes right here at Quality Spores!