What’s a Mushroom Anyway?

We see them, we grow them, we eat them. But, what are mushrooms, really?

So, what really IS a mushroom?

Walking outside on a dewy spring morning can often reveal to us  one of the many quiet wonders of nature: there, in the damp, freshly mowed grass, popped up dozens of mushrooms that certainly weren’t there the night before. Where did these things come from and how did these mushrooms grow here so fast? And, come to think of it, what really is a mushroom, anyway?

A mushroom is a structure produced by a fungus during its life cycle. Its primary purpose is to hold and release spores, which contain the necessary genetic information for reproduction. Mushrooms are often referred to as the fruiting body of a fungus. There are many steps in the life cycle of a fungus, but the eventual outcome for many macroscopic species is the formation of a fruiting body and the subsequent release of spores.

Spores are generally haploid, which means they only have one set of DNA and RNA containing chromosomes. When a spore germinates, it sends outa filamentous structure called a hypha (plural is hyphae). The hypha is also haploid. It grows and branches and often meets a hypha from another spore of the same species. When the hyphae meet their cells fuse and they become diploid and now contain a full set of complimentary chromosomes. The network of hyphae is known as mycelium, and it is the vegetative structure of a fungus. Mycelium often spreads its white hyphal threads throughout the ground or covers dead organic material on the forest floor. Similar to the roots of a tree, mycelium absorbs nutrients for the fungus to grow.

Mycelium PhotoWhen the proper conditions are present, the mycelium forms dense hyphal knots that eventually become the fruiting body of the fungus. The mature fruiting body holds haploid spores, which once released and germinated, will form new mycelial networks.

The mushroom kits we sell contain wood particles covered in mycelium. When you cut open the bag, the mycelium is exposed to light. This mimics the process in nature where sunlight penetrates the topsoil and the mycelium senses its presence and sends a mushroom skywards. So, enjoy watching these miraculous wonders of nature grow in your home or teach your children about the fungal life cycle with one of our educational mushroom kits