It’s true. While many people still think of them as plants, in 1969, it was decided that they fit into the classification kingdom of Fungi with molds and yeasts. Part of the confusion stems from the fact that they’re often considered vegetables due to being highly nutrient dense.
Unlike plants, however, mushrooms can’t create their own food. They don’t photosynthesize, they absorb their food from their ecosystem by releasing enzymes that break down the particles around them. There has been work toward utilizing this for the benefit of the environment, using them to break down plastics, oils, and maybe more.
Another large difference between fungi and plants is the fact that mushrooms take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. This is a small part of what enables great symbiotic relationships between the two. As one of the biggest decomposers, mushroom mycelium plays a vital role in symbiotic relationships with plants, through the nutrient and water exchange created.
While it would seem that mycelium would be comparable to root systems, it’s actually the main body. The mushrooms that we see are considered the fruit of the mycelium. Spreading out underground, mycelium can cover many acres without even being noticed. In fact, in 1998, it was discovered that the largest living thing is a specimen of Armillaria Ostoyae, known as honey mushrooms, growing in The Blue Mountains of North East Oregon. It spans 2,384 acres, outsizing the previous holder of the title: the blue whale.
Estimates using the typical growth of mycelium put it between 2,400 and 8,000 years old, winning it the title of the oldest living organism as well. Mushrooms gain most of their mobility from the reaching out of mycelium, but they also release spores that can become airborne or moved by water.
Spores could definitely be seen as the seeds of the mushroom, but they’re not the same thing. Most seeds come with nutrients for the growing plant packed inside a protective shell that breaks apart as the seed sprouts, but spores draw all their nutrients from wherever they end up. Different species have specific criteria for optimum growth, but generally, the spores grow into fresh mycelium and begin a new system of growth. If you’re wanting to grow your own mushrooms, you’d put the spores into petri dishes with agar and incubate before inoculating a substrate of your choice to start the mycelium growth.
Although mushrooms have a lot of differences from plants, there is one way they are similar. Both have vast amounts of variety, with some poisonous, some beneficial, and some that are just plain delicious - like the ones we grow. There are many different tastes and textures to be found, giving you plenty of options and endless recipe potential. Do you have a favorite mushroom recipe? Feel free to share it below.