What, exactly, is a mushroom?
Mushrooms aren't around just so you can put them on your pizza. The mushroom is part of a large fungus that lives underground. The mushroom develops above the ground when the fungus is ready to reproduce.
Body Parts of Fungi
The most important body parts of fungi include:
- Cell wall: A layer around the cell membrane of fungi cells made largely of chitin and other polysaccharides. It is similar to that found in plant cells, though the plant cell wall contains the polysaccharide cellulose.
- Hyphae: These are thread-like strands which interconnect and bunch up into a mycelium (Figure below). Ever see mold on a damp wall or on old bread? The things that you are seeing are really mycelia. The hyphae and mycelia help the fungi absorb nutrients from other organisms. Most of the mycelium is hidden from view deep within the fungal food source, such as rotting matter in the soil, leaf litter, rotting wood, or dead animals. Fungi produce enzymes to digest cellulose and various other materials found in rotting matter, helping with the decaying process.
- Specialized structures for reproduction: One example is a fruiting body. Just like a fruit is involved in the reproduction of a fruiting plant, a fruiting body is involved in the reproduction of a fungus. A mushroom is a fruiting body, which is the part of the fungus that produces spores (Figure below). The spores are the basic reproductive units of fungi. The mycelium remains hidden until it develops one or more fruiting bodies.
The fruiting bodies are usually produced at the surface of the food source, rather than hidden within it. This allows the reproductive spores to be easily shed and carried away by the wind, water, or animals. The fruiting bodies are usually the only indication that a fungus is present. Like icebergs, the fruiting bodies represent only a tiny fraction of the whole fungus, with most of the fungus hidden from view.
Hyphae of a Penicillium mold. The little “trees” are specialized hyphae on which spores are produced.
A mushroom is a fruiting body.
- Fungi have a cell wall.
- The fungal body consists of thread-like structures called hyphae, which can bunch up into a mycelium.
- Fungi often make specialized reproductive structures, such as a mushroom.
Use the resources below to answer the questions that follow.
Explore More I
- What are fruiting bodes?
- How fast can a mycelium grow?
- What is the function of mushrooms from the fungi point of view?
Explore More II
- What is the fungal body made up of?
- Why is the fungal mycelium usually hidden from view?
- What part of a fungus is usually most visible?
- What makes up the main "body" of the fungus?
- What is the purpose of a mushroom?
- What are hyphae? How do they relate to the mycelium?