Mycelium and the Fruiting Body
Mushrooms are fungi that typically grow in grassy or wooded areas where they feed on the living or decaying food matter produced by green plants. Umbrella-shaped fungi are comprised of two main parts, the mycelium and the fruiting body. The fruiting body is what we recognize as the mushroom cap. In the wild this fruiting body will live only a few days. The mycelium is the mushroom’s stem, which grows underground and may live for years.
During the fruiting body’s brief life, it produces spores, which are minute reproductive cells. These spores are carried away by air currents and may land far away from the parent mushroom. Yet only a small number of spores will land in soil with the correct amount of moisture and food for them to survive. For those spores that land in such a place, they grow threadlike filaments called hyphae, which will develop into a mycelium. After the fruiting body finishes distributing it spores, it dies and decays. The mycelium will continue to live and may grow new mushrooms.
Pinhead-sized knots, called buttons, develop on the mycelium and eventually develop into mushrooms. As the buttons grow, the shape of the mushroom becomes more recognizable. The stalk of the mushroom grows very quickly, typically as a result of the water it absorbs. Most mushrooms will reach their maximum height within 48 hours. The mushroom cap expands like an opening umbrella as the stalk shoots up.
Size and Colors
Mushroom sizes vary from under an inch in height to 15 inches, and the diameter can be anywhere from a quarter of an inch to 18 inches. Mushroom colors also vary, and include white, orange, brown, red, yellow, violet, green, black and blue. Some mushrooms are safe to eat, and others can be deadly. Mushroom serve a valuable purpose in nature, as they feed on decomposing plant matter.