If you have played at the park, walked your dog across a soccer field, or ordered a pizza, you have stumbled across an alien-like being that lives all across earth.
MUSHROOMS! These creatures are not animals or plants … they are fungi. You might be surprised to learn that fungi is more closely related to you and me than to plants! Mushrooms come in all types of shapes, sizes, and colours.
What do mushrooms do exactly?
You see them on the forest floor, fallen logs, and sometimes your front lawn or garden. Fungi play an important role in decomposition. Decomposition is what happens when living beings like fungi, insects, and bacteria break down dead plants and animals into smaller and smaller materials. Mushrooms eat away slowly at materials like wood, leaves, and other former living materials in the soil. Decomposition is why we’re not walking over millions of years of leaves, sticks, and tree trunks!
The mushrooms we see above the ground are only a tiny part of the fungi, they have 100s of “roots” called mycelium that spread out underground. The mycelium can make up the majority of the fungi. In fact, there is a mushroom growing in eastern Oregon’s Blue Mountains and scientists think it is BIGGER than the largest animal on earth – three times the size of a blue whale. They’ve given it the nicknaming Humongous Fungus.
Have you ever heard of a food called a truffle? If you have you might associate them with fancy foods. Truffles are a type of edible mushroom that only grows near the roots of certain types of trees. These mushrooms do not pop up above the soil, instead they prefer to stay close to the tree roots underground where they get their food. This makes farming and harvesting farming truffles more challenging. Truffles don’t hurt the tree’s roots, they actual help the tree get nutrients so both the truffle and the tree benefit.
Have you ever stumbled upon a “puffball” in a field or lawn? These are brown balls and when you squish them, they squirt out what looks like dust.
Puffballs are a type of mushroom and the dust is actually spores! Spores are sort of like the mushroom version of seeds, they drift in the wind, land somewhere and in the right conditions develop into a new fungi.
Take a Mushroom Hike
- Grab a notebook and your running shoes to go look for mushrooms. See how many different mushrooms you can find, you’ll be surprised how many mushrooms you start to see when you are looking for them.
- Just like scientists, when you come across a new mushroom draw it in your notebook and write down any cool observations: where is the mushroom, what colour is it, are there any other animals or plants around?
- Draw each fungus you find in the notebook!