The mushroom life cycle and peculiar mushroom anatomy
A look at the extraordinary Fungi life cycle, it's unique sporeworks, and the odd parts of a mushroom
Mushrooms are magical. Not only are they tasty when eaten but they can also have a range of health benefits or provide an intense high if you are so inclined. But what are they?
What are the parts of a mushroom?
Each mushroom is made up of a stem and cap that make up its body (or fruit). These are generally the part we harvest and eat as well as the part containing the spores required to create more mushrooms. Some mushrooms have species specific traits such as vulva, partial veils or annulus rings.
A mushroom will also have an extensive mycelium root system, which for some species can spread for many square miles underground. In fact, the largest organism in the world is a colony of Armillaria Fungi.
Differences in Mushroom Anatomy
All plants and animals grow through something called cell division – that is they produce more cells to get bigger. While the mushroom body also grows using cell division, the fruit (the part we eat) always has the same number of cells and increases its size by making cells LARGER. This allows mushrooms to grow much more rapidly than the slow and energy consuming cell dividing of plants. In fact, mushrooms will grow just as quickly as water can be absorbed and pumped into cells, giving the appearance sometimes that they have sprouted up overnight.
A mushroom is not a plant. It may grow in soil and it needs water and a degree of light to grow but it is certainly not the same as the dahlias growing in your garden. In fact a mushroom is more closely related to animals than it is flowers in the landscaping.
Another difference between mushrooms and plants is the way they feed. Most plants metabolize water from the soil with sunlight and carbon dioxide to gain all the nutrients they need to survive. Fungi work very differently and lack the required chlorophyll to photosynthesize. Instead they obtain nutrients from consuming dead organic matter, usually in the form of other plants, or manures.
One of the key requirements for mushrooms to grow is water. This requirement is necessitated by the fact that they have no skin to retain moisture. It is also the reason they prefer humid areas to grow. If the humidity is low, mushroom cells will lose moisture faster than it can be absorbed and will wither away and die. If you plan to grow mushrooms for yourself it is essential that the air around them is kept as moist as possible. Mushrooms still need to breathe and although they don’t have lungs like we do, they will exchange essential gasses directly with the air around them. Too much water will prevent this from happening and in essence they will drown.
Mushrooms lack thermal regulation and cannot maintain their body temperature (a bit like a lizard or other cold-blooded animal). Because of this, mushrooms grow faster in warmer climates than they do in colder ones. You will find that under the right heat they will grow incredibly fast but if the temperature gets too cold or too hot, they may never develop beyond the hyphal knot stage and may even wither away and die.
Hyphal knots, pins, mycelium and primordia - Mushroom sex is weird.
Mushrooms do not prescribe to the common notion of reproduction we have from viewing other animals and plants. In fact, they are perfectly capable of creating offspring asexually; that is without the input of any other organism. They do this by creating and then spreading spores into the surrounding area. As spores require no other stimuli and develop completely asexually within the fungi, mushrooms can replicate incredibly easily in the right conditions.
But asexual reproduction isn’t the only way a mushroom can reproduce. Sometimes two different hyphae can fuse together. This fusion can allow the mixing of genetic material.
The mycelia, or mycelium, of a mushroom that is rooted in the ground or rotting matter is the actual fungi organism. The sprouting part that pokes up (and we eat) is the fruiting body created primarily to procreate by spreading something called spores.
Unlike other plants, mushrooms don’t produce seeds. Instead they create spores that are sown into the surrounding habitat to create more mushrooms.
Sporeworks – How do mushroom spores work?
Spores are microscopic (only 1/2500-inch long), reproductive cells that allow mushrooms and other fungi to procreate and grow. They are found on the underside of the mushroom fruit (or cap as it is known) inside the teeth, gills, or pores of the fungus. These teeth, gills, and pores form the main reproduction (or in the case of mushrooms replication) part of the fungi and are so called because of their shape and similarity to parts of other animals.
Each healthy mushroom will contain millions of spores that when the time is right, and the correct level of maturity has been met, will be dispersed to spread over a wide area to create more fungi. The reason so many spores are required is that the circumstances for successful germination are incredibly rare and the vast majority will fail to succeed in their purpose. Their general small size also makes it easy for them to carry over large distances to increase the chances that germination will occur.
A spore is basically a smaller version of the parent mushroom and is in a way a replication of it. As such the spore has everything it needs to germinate out of the gate and if the right conditions are met will grow into another mushroom relatively easily.
Mushrooms won’t attempt to generate spores until the mycelium has stored enough nutrients and the environment provides the water they require. This is a key thing to remember if you plan to grow mushrooms and creating the right environment for spore germination and development is vital to a successful crop.
A spore print is a technique used by many mushroom enthusiasts to identify the type of mushroom they come across. Each mushroom will make its own definite pattern that will be unique in terms of shape and color.
To make a spore print you need to harvest the mushroom cap and place it gill, teeth, or pore side down on a piece of plastic wrap or white paper (paper is generally better as the pattern will be clearer to see). A bowl is then placed over the mushroom and left overnight so the millions of spores it has stored can be dispersed. When you return to the paper or wrap in the morning, you’ll find that the spores have created a pattern unique for that type of mushroom. By using a reliable fungus guide you can then match the pattern to a species of mushroom.
The Fungi life cycle is amazing, and mushroom anatomy is unique and magical.
What rare, incredible things might we learn as we further our understanding of fungi? The mushrooms we see are only the smallest portion of a vast network of complex life, hidden all around us. Imagine what might be found if we are keen enough to look.
Ready to start growing your own mushrooms? We’ve got you covered. Learn how to make a mushroom monotub , compare strains and effects of the many magical Cubensis, or jump right in with a set of all in one mushroom grow bags.