Mushrooms are a broad category of fungi – non-photosynthetic organisms evolved from algae – that currently encompasses somewhere between 100,000 and 120,000 known individual species. For comparison, there are only 73,000 known species of tree. The primary function of mushrooms in an ecosystem is decomposition – these funky little fungi can break down just about anything, including pesticides, heavy metals, and even petroleum products (plastics!). On top of their function, mushrooms have a bevy of health benefits. They can improve brain function, decrease the risk of cancer, provide a great source of Vitamins D and B6, and can even improve gut health. Certain mushrooms are even currently being studied for their potential to alleviate symptoms of Alzheimer’s and eating disorders.
Mushrooms are made of mycelium, a spiderweb like structure that is the ‘brain’ of the mushroom. Mycelium grows beneath the ground and pushes up fruiting bodies (what we think of as mushrooms) when the conditions are optimum to release spores and grow new mycelium.
Here you can see the lifecycle of the mushroom – almost all mushrooms follow this same growth format, but it is always a good idea to learn more about the specific variety of mushroom you intend to grow.
If you’re viewing this course, you probably know at least a little about the many wonders of mushrooms, so let’s waste no time! Next stop – mycelium and spore collection to begin our mushroom growing adventure!