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WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF

MUSHROOMS

Mushrooms, the fruits of the fungi world, attract a diverse group of enthusiasts. People who enjoy a bit of color in their forest environment enjoy colorful mushrooms such as the purple cortinarius in the top picture…

Generally, mushrooms are spore- producing fungal growths, some of which are edible. The most popular ones have a very distinguishable shape, typically a dome cap with gills or lamellae on the underside along with a stem. Though some mushrooms fit that description there are actually many variations in the mushroom family. They come in an assortment of colors, some are bell-shaped, others flat, some have stems, some don’t, some are edible, some aren’t, and some grow in the moist earth while others grow on their food source.

That fruity, fleshy part we know as the mushroom is actually the fruit of the fungus; the sprouting of these spore laden fleshy mushroom ensures the continuation if its species. The main body of the fungus lies beneath the earth in a complex network of minute threads known as Hyphae, when more than one hyphae connect; they are referred to as Mycelium.

Mushrooms are broken down into two major groups called are Basidiomycetes and Ascomycetes. The former are the fungi that produce their spores on dedicated cells called ‘Basidia, singular Basidium. This compares with the Ascomycetes that produces their spores in sac like cells called ‘Asci, singular, Ascus. These classifications are further broken down as we learn more about the intriguing organisms..

Currently there are over 10,000 known types of mushrooms. That may seem like a large number but mycologists suspect that this is only a fraction of what’s out there! We can put these various species in one of 4 categories: saprotrophic, mycorrhizal, parasitic, and endophytic. These categories describe how the organism feeds itself…

EDIBLE MUSHROOMS

Saprotrophs – Thriving on Decay

Saprotrophic mushrooms are decomposers. They release acids and enzymes that break down dead tissue into smaller molecules they can absorb. Thus decaying wood, plants, and even animals can become food for a saprotroph.Think of all the dead matter on the ground. Now imagine what would become of it if there were fewer organisms to recycle it into compost or soil. You can easily see how important saprotrophs are to the food chain!

Some examples are below:

  • MORELS

Morchella angusticeps, Morchella esculenta etc. These elusive, delicious species are very popular with mushroom hunters. Known to be mycorrhizal as well.

  • REISHI

Eg:- Ganoderma lucidum – Highly prized in Chinese medicine, this mushroom is now the subject of many medical studies.

  • SHIITAKE

Eg:- Lentinula edodes – Famous for both its great taste and medicinal properties.

  • BUTTON

Eg:- Agaricus bisporus

  • OYESTER

Eg:- (Pleurotus ostreatus) – Another popular edible, also known for its cholesterol-reducing effects.

  • MAITAKE

Eg:- Grifola frondosa – Edible, known anti-tumor properties, and it looks like a brain!

Hen of woods

Eg:- Trametes versicolor – Although too tough to be edible in any manner other than a tea, this is one of the most well-studied medicinal mushrooms.

  • PUFFBALLS

Eg:- Calvatia gigantea – These large mushrooms are only edible when young.

  • ENOKKITAKE

Eg:- Flammulina velutipes – Easy to cultivate and often used in soups.

  • SHAGGY MANE

Eg:- Coprinus comatus – This unique looking mushroom has antibiotic properties.

  • BLACK TRUMPHET

Eg:- Craterellus cornucopioides – The best tasting edible mushroom out there!

Mycorrhizae – Successful Partnering with Plants

Mycorrhizal mushrooms have a fascinating relationship with trees and other plants. The mycelia of these fungi enter into a beneficial union with the roots of plants by either weaving into the root cells (endomycorrhizal) or wrapping around the roots themselves (ectomycorrhizal).

The mycelia bring in additional moisture, phosphorous, and other nutrients to their hosts. In return they gain access to sugars (such as glucose) that the hosts produce. This allows plants to grow bigger, faster, and stronger than their non-mycorrhizal counterparts. Many farmers and gardeners will inoculate their crops with a mycorrhizal fungus for better growth.

An estimated 95% of plants form mycorrhizal partnerships with fungi. The types of mushrooms these fungi produce are difficult to cultivate and are often found only in nature.The ones below make a delicious treat if you can find them:

  • PORCINI

Eg:- Boletus edulis – Often used in soups and sauces, this mushroom can grow quite large.

  • TRUFFLES

Eg:- Tuber melanosporum, Tuber magnatum – These gourmet delights are very expensive.

  • CHANTERELLAS

Eg:- Cantharellus cibarius, Cantharellus formosus – Another prized edible found on many continents.

  • MATSUTAKE

Eg:- Tricholoma matsutake – Highly sought after for their flavor and aroma in cooking.

Parasites – Feeding on the Weak

Parasitic types of mushrooms also take plant hosts. Although in this case the relationship is one-sided. These fungi will infect the host and eventually kill it.

Sometimes the line between parasitic and saprotrophic is not so clear. The honey mushroom is a known parasite yet it will also continue to live saprotrophically on the dead wood of its host. Most true parasitic fungi do not produce mushrooms and are too small to be noticed on a tree until it’s too late. Some notable types of mushroom producing parasites are

  • HONEY FUNGUS

Eg:- Armillaria mellea, Armillaria ostoyae – Some species in the Armillaria genus  are edible, some are bioluminescent, and one colony is suspected to be the largest organism on the planet!

  • CATERPILLAR FUNGUS

Eg:- Cordyceps sinensis – A true parasite that preys on insects. This interesting mushroom may just be my favorite.

  • LION’S MANE

Eg:- Hericium erinaceus – This strange specimen possesses spiny teeth instead of the traditional cap. In addition to being edible, it’s also suspected to help heal nerve tissue!

Endophytes – A Mysterious Symbiosis

Endophytic fungi deserve their own category due to their behavior. Endophytes partner with plants by invading the host tissue. However, unlike with parasitic fungi, the host remains healthy and seem to benefit with increased nutrient absorption and resistance to pathogens. Unlike mycorrhizal fungi, most endophytes can be easily cultivated in a lab without their host present.

Successful cultivation aside, much is still unknown about this category of fungi. Many species do not produce mushrooms and their partnership with plants is not fully understood. Some mycologists suspect that certain parasitic and saprophytic fungi will reveal themselves as endophytes as the field expands. Time will tell what discoveries will emerge as this group is studied further.

POISONOUS MUSHROOMS

Although mushrooms are considered to be delicacies in various parts of the world, not all varieties are edible. Consuming poisonous mushrooms can cause adverse effects on the body, ranging from gastrointestinal irritation to kidney failure. Wild mushrooms consumption leads to mushroom poisoning, commonly known as mycetism, which has become a common concern today. The reason behind this is that certain mushrooms contain toxic substances that are often misidentified as edible mushrooms. There are over thousand types of mushroom identified in the world, out of which around 32 varieties are considered to be fatal and about 53 varieties to be relatively less toxic. Read through the following lines to find different kinds of poisonous mushrooms.

  • AMANITAS

Several species of Amanitas contain amanitin, one of the deadliest poisons found in nature. A small cap of Destroying Angel (Amanita virosa) is sufficient to kill a man. An Amanita initially looks like an egg-shaped button resembling a small puff-ball. The button breaks open when the mushroom grows. A fully developed Amanita is a gilled mushroom with parasol-shaped caps, white, yellow, red or brown in color. These are found on the ground in woodlands during summer and fall season.

  • FALSE MORELS

It is difficult to categorize false morels into edible or poisonous mushrooms as they fit both the categories clearly. While they are considered as a favorite wild mushroom by people for years, they are also known to cause serious illnesses and deaths. Theses mushrooms contain a toxic chemical called monomethyl hydrazine (MMH), which causes diarrhea, vomiting, severe headaches and even death in some cases. False morels are brain like or saddle-shaped with wrinkled and irregular caps. The colors can be black, grey, white, brown or reddish. They grow in woodlands on the ground.

  • LITTLE BROWN MUSHROOMS

LBMs include all small to medium-sized, hard to identify brownish mushrooms with spores in all colors. They are extremely toxic and may cause sudden death.

  • JACK-O’- LANTERN

The name says it all. This bright orange-colored mushroom glows in the dark. The fresh specimens are known to give a faint greenish glow at night or in a darkened room. Commonly found in summer and fall, these mushrooms though look, smell and taste good, can cause mild poisonings. Upon consumption, one is likely to complain of a mild to severe stomach upset. However, these mushrooms are not life-threatening to healthy adults. Jack-O’-Lantern commonly grows at the base of trees, on stumps or on buried wood, in large clusters.

  • GREEN SPORED LEPIOTA

Found in fairy rings on suburban lawns, these large mushrooms can cause violent gastrointestinal upset. They are parasol-shaped with a cream or tan scaly cap and large rings on the stem. Clear from its name, the green-spored lepiota is the only mushroom with a greenish spore print. These mushrooms can be found on the grounds of lawns, pastures and meadows in summer and fall.

1 comment August 12, 2010

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