18 fabulous fungi photos that call into question everything you know about nature.

It's 2016. Isn't it time you let mushrooms into your heart?

Fungi (think mushrooms, lichens, and slime molds) are actually really fun, guys.

Dad jokes aside, mushrooms and other fungi are diverse, colorful, textured, and just plain strange. Their beauty is remarkable and unexpected, challenging every notion about what fungi should be. I wanted to know more about these organisms, so I went straight to the source: fungi fanatic Stephen Axford.


All photos by Stephen Axford, used with permission.

Axford takes beautiful photographs of weird and wonderful fungi near his home in rural New South Wales, Australia, and on expeditions around the world.

He's traveled to China, Thailand, and Russia to shoot nature at its best. But why fungi?

"I was into going out as far away into the bush as I could, away from people. And I came across mushrooms, and they seemed quite photogenic," Axford said. "I didn't know much about fungi at the time, but ... people explained things and I got to know quite a few mycologists, and one thing led to another."

Now, Axford runs his own photo website and a popular Facebook page dedicated to his fungi photography. His work is also slated to appear in BBC's "Planet Earth II." And as you can imagine, his passion for these organisms is contagious.

Think you can get through this collection of Stephen Axford's photos without falling in love with all things fungi? Good luck.

I mean, come on, the colors of this Anthracophyllum archeri are almost intoxicating.

And the smooth lines of this Bisporella citrina are the stuff modern artists dream about.

Fungi shapes can vary wildly too. This crinipellis looks part jellyfish.

And did we take a trip under the sea? Nope, that's not coral. It's Clavaria zollingeri.

The Cyathus striatus or "bird's nest" fungi is less "birds nest" and more "straight-up magic."

And the Cookeina tricholoma look like ... well. OK, let's just move on.

Mycena interrupta might appear to be something out of "Avatar," but they're here. On this planet. RIGHT NOW. No hair-horse bond required.

Prefer something a little more, "Seuss-ian" in nature? Say no more, fam.

Panus lecomtei.

Or perhaps you require a mushroom where you can keep earrings, paper clips, secrets, and spare batteries. Cue the Plectania campylospora.

And Leratiomyces may look like a fancy sugar cookie you buy at the bakery, but do not eat it. Trust me on this one.

I'm sorry, is this not a magical house where fairies live? Oh, just a Leptonia. My mistake.

Now you may be thinking, "Glittery, glamorous fungi? That don't impress me much." Well, these creepy looking lichens are just for you, Shania Twain.

Or better yet, how about this fungi that is not here for your body-shaming.

And  this slime mold screams personality. Not really though, that would be terrifying.

And finally this Mycena chlorophos glows in the dark. It GLOWS IN THE DARK! Are you not entertained?

Chlorophos before chlorabros.

The beauty, wonder, and ecological diversity in fungi are truly staggering.

Axford is essentially a citizen scientist, traveling and lending his talent to experts and researchers, many of whom haven't had the opportunity to document these particular types of mushrooms and fungi in their natural state. It's his own way of contributing to the greater good and advancing conservation in his corner of the world.

"There aren't enough scientists to go around," he said. "So people like myself can actually do something useful, something important, in tracing how things work."

Whether it's fungi photos or something altogether different, taking part in the care and conservation of our natural lands is something all of us can do. And who knows what gems and surprises you'll discover along the way.

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Some 75 years ago, in bombed-out Frankfurt, Germany, a little girl named Marlene Mahta received a sign of hope in the midst of squalor, homelessness and starvation. A CARE Package containing soap, milk powder, flour, blankets and other necessities provided a lifeline through the contributions of average American families. There were even luxuries like chocolate bars.

World War II may have ended, but its devastation lingered. Between 35 and 60 million people died. Whole cities had been destroyed, the countryside was charred and burned, and at least 60 million European civilians had been made homeless. Hunger remained an issue for many families for years to come. In the face of this devastation, 22 American organizations decided to come together and do something about it: creating CARE Packages for survivors.

"What affected me… was hearing that these were gifts from average American people," remembers Mahta, who, in those desperate days, found herself picking through garbage cans to find leftover field rations and MREs to eat. Inspired by the unexpected kindness, Mahta eventually learned English and emigrated to the U.S.

"I wanted to be like those wonderful, generous people," she says.

The postwar Marshall Plan era was a time of "great moral clarity," says Michelle Nunn, CEO of CARE, the global anti-poverty organization that emerged from those simple beginnings. "The CARE Package itself – in its simplicity and directness – continues to guide CARE's operational faith in the enduring power of local leadership – of simply giving people the opportunity to support their families and then their communities."

Each CARE Package contained rations that had once been reserved for soldiers, but were now being redirected to civilians who had suffered as a result of the conflict. The packages cost $10 to send, and they were guaranteed to arrive at their destination within four months.

Thousands of Americans, including President Harry S. Truman, got involved, and on May 11, 1946, the first 15,000 packages were sent to Le Havre in France, a port badly battered during the war.

Thousands of additional CARE Packages soon followed. At first packages were sent to specific recipients, but over time donations came in for anyone in need. When war rations ran out American companies began donating food. Later, carpentry tools, blankets, clothes, books, school supplies, and medicine were included.

Before long, the CARE Packages were going to other communities in need around the world, including Asia and Latin America. Ultimately, CARE delivered packages to 100 million families around the world.

The original CARE Packages were phased out in the late 1960s, though they were revived when specific needs arose, such as when former Soviet Union republics needed relief, or after the Bosnian War. Meanwhile, CARE transformed. Now, instead of physical boxes, it invests in programs for sustainable change, such as setting up nutrition centers, Village Savings and Loan Associations, educational programs, agroforestry initiatives, and much more.

But, with a pandemic ravaging populations around the world, CARE is bringing back its original CARE packages to support the critical basic needs of our global neighbors. And for the first time, they're also delivering CARE packages here at home in the United States to communities in need.

Community leaders like Janice Dixon are on the front lines of that effort. Dixon, president and CEO of Community Outreach in Action in Jonesboro, Ga., now sends up to 80 CARE packages each week to those in need due to COVID-19. Food pantries have been available, she notes, but they've been difficult to access for those without cars, and public transportation is spotty in suburban Atlanta.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook," says Dixon. For example, one of those calls was from a senior diabetic, she remembers, who faced an impossible choice, but was able to purchase medicine because food was being provided by CARE.

Today, CARE is sending new packages with financial support and messages of hope to frontline medical workers, caregivers, essential workers, and individuals in need in more than 60 countries, including the U.S. Anyone can now go to carepackage.org to send targeted help around the world. Packages focus on helping vaccines reach people more quickly, tackling food insecurity, educational disparities, global poverty, and domestic violence, as well as providing hygiene kits to those in need.

From the very beginning, CARE received the support of presidents, with Hollywood luminaries like Rita Hayworth and Ingrid Bergman also adding their voices. At An Evening With CARE, happening this Tuesday, May 11, notable names will turn out again as the organization celebrates the 75th Anniversary of the CARE Package and the exciting, meaningful work that lies ahead. The event will be hosted by Whoopi Goldberg and attended by former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter, as well as Angela Merkel, Iman, Jewel, Michelle Williams, Katherine McPhee-Foster, Betty Who and others. Please RSVP now for this can't-miss opportunity.

Anyone who has gone through the process of disentangling themselves from an addiction knows it's an ongoing, daily battle. It may get easier, and the payoffs may become more apparent, but it's still a decision someone makes each day to stay detached from their substance of choice.

Seeing someone who has a long record of sobriety—especially after a very public struggle—can be motivating and inspiring for others in different stages of their recovery journey. That's part of why actor Rob Lowe's announcement that he's reached 31 years sober is definitely something to celebrate.

"Today I have 31 years drug and alcohol free," Lowe wrote on Twitter. "I want to give thanks to everyone walking this path with me, and welcome anyone thinking about joining us; the free and the happy. And a big hug to my family for putting up with me!! Xoxo"

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Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
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The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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