fungi mushrooms mycology the fifth kingdom

What are mushrooms for?

What are mushrooms for?

Well, they are not really for toads to sit on, they are not designed to be eaten, or kicked, and they won't kill your lawn. They are in fact short-lived fruits arising from the diffuse but extensive underground networks of food-gathering filaments produced by many fungi.

Their job is to make spores, and to release them into the air for long-range dispersal. A mushroom has three obvious parts --

(1) an upright stalk,
(2) a more or less horizontal cap at the top of the stalk, and
(3) a bunch of what we call 'gills' on the under-side of the cap (though they have nothing to do with breathing). The gills are covered with huge numbers of special spore-making cells called basidia

(see Chapter 5 of The Fifth Kingdom).

You will notice two things about gills --
(1) there are lots of them, arranged in a pattern radiating out from the stem, and
(2) they are usually vertical. They must be vertical because the spores are shot away from the basidia by a delicate mechanism, and must fall down between the gills and out into the air. Once out there, they drift away, and can travel for long distances before falling to earth. Most of those spores will die along the way, but a few will start new fungal colonies, and eventually these will produce more mushrooms.

A much more detailed account can be found in Chapter 5 of the book The Fifth Kingdom

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