Mushrooms are fungi, which are plants that reproduce by decomposing and absorbing organic materials. Fungi live in a wide variety of environments, including soil, air and water. They are diverse in their appearance and have many different parts, including cap and stem, spore-producing gills and pores, and mycelium.
The fruiting body of a mushroom anatomy is called the mycelium, which consists of a network of thread-like filaments known as hyphae. Hyphae absorb nutrients from their environment and transport them to the fruiting body so that it can mature and release spores for reproduction. The fungus’s mycelium also plays an important role in decomposition and helps with the growth of other organisms like insects and plants.
Spores are the tiny reproductive particles that hold all of the genetic material needed to make a new fungus. They are produced when the mushroom grows and they can be released in a number of ways, including through the gills, pores or teeth on the cap, as well as when the mushroom ruptures.
These spores can be white, brown, pink, black or any other color. When they fall on the surface underneath, they create a powdery deposit, known as a spore print, which can be used to identify mushrooms.
The Cap and Stem
A mushroom’s cap is a protective, hard covering that protects the fungus from predators, weather conditions, and sunlight. The shape, size, texture and color of a mushroom cap is critical for identifying it.
Some mushrooms have smooth caps, while others have patterns that are unique to the species. For example, the Lion’s Mane mushroom has a cap that looks like a bearded tooth and Turkey Tail has a cap that resembles coral or petals.
The stem is the part of a mushroom that supports the cap and elevates it to the air, which helps with spore dispersal. The stem can be straight, curved or twisted. The base of the stem can be a dense, fibrous material or a soft fleshy layer.
Gills are spore-producing structures that appear on the underside of the cap in many different forms, including attached to the stem, free and with forking or branching patterns. Gills also vary in color and can bruise differently depending on the pressure.
Some mushrooms have undersides that look deceptively similar to gills but are actually false gills, which are actually ridges under the cap. These mushrooms include chanterelles and stinkhorns.