Mushroom hunters forge through damp wooded areas searching for the prized edible mushroom. They must be skilled in the identification process, because some mushrooms are deadly. There are over 3,000 species of mushroom throughout the world. It is a fungus, and unlike other plants, has no chlorophyll to help it manufacture food. The cap of the mushroom--the part we typically eat--is actually the fruiting part of the mushroom, and is vital to its reproduction process. The cap will last only a few days, but during that time it will create millions of spores. Spores are single cells, each capable of developing into a mushroom.
Cells Produce Spores
The cells that produce spores on the fruiting body are either asci or basidia. With asci cells, spores are produced internally, and in the basidia they are produced externally. Spores are released when either the tip of the asci breaks off or the spores break off from the basidia. After the spores are released, they are carried by the wind, and it is possible for them to land far from the parent mushroom. After the spores are released, the cap or fruiting part of the mushroom dies.
Asci and Basidia Cells
The asci cells are located on the internal surface of the cup fungi. When the asci breaks open, the spores are released. Gilled mushrooms, boletes and puffballs all have basidia cells. In the gilled mushrooms, they are located on the bottom of the cap, from which the spores are dropped. In the boletes, they are located in tubes contained in the flesh of the mushroom cap, with pores that release the spores. In the puffball, they are located in the body of the cap, and the spores release when the shell of the cap breaks open.
The Cycle Continues
For a spore to survive and grow into a new mushroom, it must land in an environment that is appropriate for mushroom cultivation. The soil should be damp and moist. Mushrooms thrive in areas that are grassy and wooded. After landing in such an environment, the spore will grow hair-like filaments that are called hypha. From the hyphae, the mushroom's mycelium will grow. This is the part of the mushroom that grows below the soil. From the mycelium a stalk or stem will grow, and atop the stem will grow the fruiting cap. When the hypha of one spore meets with the hypha from another spore, a mating or germination process begins that results in the production of more spores.
- A. Johnson