The Sierra Outdoor School has been getting much needed rain showers, and with those showers appear nature’s oddballs—mushrooms.  Mushrooms are part of the Fungi Kingdom and are actually only a small part of a much larger organism.

Apples of the dirt
A mushroom is much like an apple on a tree—existing to carry and spread seeds.  The mushroom version of a seed is called a spore.  The “tree” a mushroom grows on is called the mycelium, an underground network of hair-like fibers.  The mycelium can be as small as a few square feet and as large as several thousand acres. 

Mycelium in yellow.  Found growing under log.

What appears to be cob webs is actually mycelium.
Mushroom examples and their lifestyles
Shaggy Mane—Shaggy Mane mushrooms grow in the forest here at SOS but can also be found growing out of lawns in the suburbs.  They are characterized by a “shaggy” cap growing on the end of a stalk.  The underside of the cap contains gills from which spores will eventually drop.  Shaggy Mane is a common example of a saprophyte, an organism which gets its energy and nutrients by digesting decaying plant matter. 

Shaggy Mane just beginning to make an appearance.
Mature Shaggy Mane
Puffball—Unlike the Shaggy Mane, the Puffball lacks gills and a stalk.  Late in its life cycle it will dry out and emit a “puff” of spores.  Puffballs are mycorrhizal, which means they get their energy from trees through a mycelium to root connection .  The mycelium in turn acts as an extension of the tree's root networks and brings in more water.  
A trio of puffballs.
Turkey Tail—Can you guess how this mushroom got its name? Turkey tail is part of a group of mushrooms called polypores. Instead of having gills, polypores have a system of pores(like your skin) on their underside.  Like the Shaggy Mane, Turkey Tail is a saprophyte, getting its energy by digesting the wood it grows on. 

So the next time you see a mushroom remember:
1) An underground network of mycelium lies beneath it.
2) Their function is to spread spores for reproduction.
3) They assist in decomposition and can help the roots of trees.
4) They come in many shapes and sizes.


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