You Are What You Eat: Mushrooms
Mushrooms are the fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus, so let’s pretend we are mycologists and delve deep into the fungi kingdom!
So where to begin … let’s start with the basics of mushrooms – is it a plant, a fruit, or a vegetable?
Well, technically, it is none of those … it has its very own classification – it comes from the fungi kingdom. The fungi kingdom includes moulds, yeast, mildew, rusts and smuts (a fungal disease of cereals in which parts of the ear change to black powder).
Mushrooms Are The Fruit of a Fungus – this means they are the fruiting bodies or reproductive structures of a much larger underground fungus. Like an apple is the fruit of a much larger fruit tree, the mushrooms you see are the tip of the iceberg and usually only represent about 5% of the fungus.
Fungi Are The Largest Life Forms on Earth
Fungal mycelium can grow and expand for miles under the ground as they go in search of food.
The largest living organism on the planet is a single honey mushroom (Armillaria ostoyae) in the Malheur National Forest, Oregon, USA.
It’s around 3.5 miles (5.6 km ) wide, occupies an area of 965 hectares (2,385 acres), and is at least 2,400 years old. But could be much older. It also holds the record for being the world’s largest fungus.
Fungi Are Genetically Closer to Humans Than Plants
In the past, scientists considered fungi to be plants, but now we know better. Discoveries show that fungi are more closely related to animals, including humans, than to plants.
Here are some of the things that make fungi more like animals:
- They absorb nutrients from organic matter, unlike plants that produce their food through photosynthesis.
- Fungi have a fibrous substance called chitin in their cell walls, the same as animals. Plants do not.
- Like us, fungi need food, water and oxygen to survive. They use their hyphae to absorb nutrients, water, and oxygen from their surroundings and expel waste products and CO2.