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What in the world are mushrooms?

Updated: Aug 29, 2019

Brief History of Fungi

We see mushrooms at the store and in the wild, but what are they? They aren't plants and definitely not animals. They actually belong to their own Kingdom called Fungi. About 1 Billion years ago Animalia and Fungi shared of a common branch in the tree of life. It was only later that Animals split away from Fungi. So, we are more closely related to mushrooms than we are to plants. Mushrooms even "breath" oxygen and release CO2 just like us!

There was a point in history where we split off away from fungi. The turning point was in the way we digest food. Fungi excretes enzymes onto it's food to break it down for consumption. This process is done outside of the Fungi organism. In the Animalia Kingdom, we consume our food by ingesting and breaking it down in our stomach.

Ok, so what is a mushroom?!

Mushrooms are the reproductive structure of fungi. They provide the ability for the organism to spread it's spores into the air and thus carrying them far away. The interesting thing about spores is they must find another compatible spore to reproduce. Considering spores are just a few microns in size the odds of spores meeting each other seems astronomical, but it happens!

In order to understand what mushrooms are, we first need to talk about mycelium. Mycelium is the main living part of fungi. Mushrooms are merely the tip of the iceberg when talking about fungi. Mycelium is a white (usually) mass made up of thousands of interconnected filaments called hyphae. Mycelium expands on it's food and excretes certain enzymes to break down it down.

Once the mycelium runs out of nutrients or is beginning to die off it will now focus on spreading itself via spores. At this point the mycelium will begin to create tiny clusters called Hyphal Knots. These knots then form into tiny developing mushrooms. Once these mushrooms get going they will quickly develop in about 4-5 days for most species.

Mushrooms will begin to grow larger and larger depending on their environment. Mushrooms are very susceptible to their environment since they are about 90% water. Low humidity can cause them to stop growing and die off before they have a chance to mature. Other factors like CO2, light and event bacteria and spores in the air can affect how they grow. Oyster mushrooms and many others will develop very long stems if not provided with enough oxygen and light.

In conclusion, mushrooms are a small yet crucial part of fungi. It provides the ability for fungi to spread it's spores into the air to be carried to another place. They also provide us with a great source of protein, fiber, zinc, calcium and a vast number of vitamins. Enjoy!