Hoaxes & Rumors

Debunking the “World’s Largest Mushroom” Photo

Debunking the “World’s Largest Mushroom” Photo

A photo of a giant mushroom – large enough to eclipse a group of people – allegedly shows the largest living thing in the world. It is real or just another internet hoax?

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The story is real but the photo is fake.

The Real Story

The world’s “biggest living thing” was first reported in August 2000 to be the honey mushroom (Armillaria ostoyae) of Oregon. It covers 2200 acres and is estimated to be over 2400 years old. It was discovered in the late 1990s using aerial photos and through DNA testing cultures from 112 dying trees.

A paragraph from the story linked above has circulated online for years, which accurately describes the “world’s largest thing.” The shared story, however, has for years included a fake photo of a single, giant mushroom that completely misrepresents the story and the honey mushroom. The story included with the photo reads:

Oregon’s monster mushroom is world’s biggest living thing

The largest living organism ever found has been discovered in an ancient American forest. The Armillaria ostoyae, popularly known as the honey mushroom, started from a single spore too small to see without a microscope. It has been spreading its black shoestring filaments, called rhizomorphs, through the forest for an estimated 2,400 years, killing trees as it grows.

The Fake Photo

The caption fails to mention that the fungus is not a single, massive growth, but actually covers many square miles of land. The giant mushroom depicted in the photo is a digital creation, and does not show the honey mushroom of Oregon.

Digital Manipulation

The first step we took in debunking this photo was to look closely for obvious signs of manipulation. The person in the red shirt, for example, appears to be using binoculars, which wouldn’t be necessary for an object only about 20-feet high. The edges of the mushroom indicate that a photo of a mushroom was cut out and enlarged (see below). It would also stand to reason that if such a massive mushroom did exist, there would be more photos of it. Such an amazing sight would have been well-documented by scientists and journalists, yet the photo above is the only image in existence of this large mushroom.

Honey Mushroom

The massive mushroom in the fake photo doesn’t depict the honey mushroom of Oregon. Take a look at the actual honey mushroom (below) and compare it to the one in the manipulated photo above.

honey mushroom

According to the website by Tom Volk, Professor of Biology at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, “The largest fungal fruiting bodies known are… only about 300lbs.”

Edge Analysis

There are several signs of digital manipulation of the image. Take, for example, how the edges of the stem change when background changes to the forest behind it. The edge changes from a smooth, slightly blurry line to a very sharp edge. This indicates that the image of the mushroom was likely cut out and placed there. See the enlargement below.

True source: “Boletus photoshopus”

Although we felt our “edge analysis” was enough to debunk the hoax, we decided to dig a little deeper and ask around to see if any “mushroom experts” could tell us anything else about the image. We first contacted Professor Volk to see if he had any insights, and he was familiar with the popular image. His response was:

“This picture was out of Tom Bruns’ lab at Berkeley. Definitely photoshopped. Apparently believably. Hope this helps. —tom”

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We then sent an email in January 2013 to Tom Bruns at UC Berkeley, who responded immediately. His quirky response included the subject of Boletus photoshopus with a single statement:

Pictured in its natural habitat – the digital photo. – Tom Bruns

In other words, the “natural habitat” of the mushroom in the image is in a digital photo.  We love the name he gave the mushroom in the picture: Boletus photoshopus.

Bottom Line

The giant mushroom pictured above is a digital creation and does not depict the world’s “largest living thing.” The image originated from the lab of Tom Bruns from UC Berkeley, apparently as a joke. Over two years since we first investigated this graphic, it continues to circulate heavily online.

We’d like to thank Thomas Volk and Tom Bruns for helping us debunk the image once and for all. Who knew that fungi experts could be so cool? 

Updated May 6, 2016
Originally published January 2013

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  • Lori Richardson

    This was great! Thanks Waffles.

  • Larry Beach

    All you have to do is compare the Shadows and Light source, The guy with the white hat is standing with the sun clearly at his Back. The light source coming from the Right side of the picture, with his front shaded, the Mushroom is illuminated from the side facing us, if that is the case the guy with the White hats Side closest to us would be illuminated too, CONCLUSION…… FAKE….

    • lovesliberalnews

      ok dork. Or just know mushrooms don’t get that big.

      • Onion Ninja

        Yeah they do, well almost that big ive seen one in real life.

  • Drew_Gehringer

    The mushrooms are quite small, it’s the fungal root system underneath that covers 3 football fields (probably a bit more by now, its still growing).

  • Dingle Stingle

    Or you could have just called the park rangers and asked if there was a giant 30 foot mushroom there.

    • Rob Tanner

      for the win^^^ hahahahaha

  • mdollarhide64

    Did you even read the article? We know the info is true and just the pic is fake.

  • vedant

    If you carefully look at the trees it is apparent that the lightsource (sun) is at the right side of the photo, but that should imply that the left side of the upper lobe of the mushroom should’ve been darker. Secondly the shadow that the mushroom should’ve cast on the ground is also nowhere to be seen.

  • matthew

    I want more pictures of the mushrooms.

    • Mamma G

      It is an underground root system

  • Marc

    When they say the ‘largest living thing’, they’re more referencing the underground portion, how far it spans. It’s not going to be a 3 football field mushroom, I’m sorry to say.

  • sara

    I was hoping it was some sort of wood carved tourist attraction.

    • waffles

      That would actually be very cool!

  • Caveman Chuck

    Of course Thomas Volk and Tom Bruns could be so cool… They’re a couple of fungis!

    • Shadowlit

      (3 years later)Badoom tss

    • Kevin Palembas

      That was bad ??

  • Shirley

    I think it’s great! I am from Oregon and have seen very large mushrooms! fake pic but made me feel like I was back home!

  • waffles

    Thank you for your enlightened comment. The purpose of this post is to clear up the origin of this image which continues to be passed off as real.

  • BIBO

    I thought it was a tree carved to look like a mushroom. Interesting story, although there was a similar story of a fungus across the upper peninsula of Michigan 30 years ago – which would have been much larger than either of these western varieties!

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