Underneath us is an invisible world that extends through the ground like a sizable, connected railroad system. A world that indirectly feeds insects and animals as well as plants and trees with nutrients and a world where organic material breaks down at the end of its life cycle, replenishing nutrients in our priceless soil.
Welcome to the world of mushrooms!
The life cycle of a mushroom is fascinating! Watching these fungi flourish is intriguing, whether you're watching the development of tiny mushrooms or marveling at the growth of larger mushrooms.
If you are intrigued by these fantastic organisms and want to become experts, hang around as we guide you on each mushroom growth stages.
What Is A Mushroom?
Mushrooms(1) are classified as fungi because they are neither strictly plant nor strictly animal. Although mushrooms have more plant-like anatomy, they belong to a different classification and, in terms of metabolism, are more closely related to people than other animals.
The fungi kingdom, which includes mushrooms, is separate.
Because fungi are heterotrophic, they obtain their nutrients from other organisms, including the soil and environment.
In terms of breathing, mushrooms are more like people. For example, fungi breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon like humans, whereas plants breathe in carbon (CO2) and exhale oxygen (O2).
Additionally, mushrooms are our ecosystem's primary decomposers and recyclers, naturally strengthening the environment's immune system. And a whole series of events takes place before you even consider munching on a delicious mushroom; the mushroom fruitbody that we know and love is merely a tiny component of a much larger cycle.
In brief, a mushroom's fruiting body is produced by an underground network of mycelium that resembles the roots of a plant (similar to a flower). However, it goes a little deeper than that, so let's delve a little further.
The Life Cycle Of A Mushroom
Given that fungi are among the most enigmatic organisms on Earth, it makes sense that they have a unique mushroom growth cycle. But understanding a mushroom's life cycle is fascinating and necessary. Without them, the world we know would not be the same (imagine being buried beneath a mountain of trash where nothing would be broken down!).
There are five phases in the life cycle of a mushroom
1. Spore Phase
Spores are similar to mushroom seeds. Mushrooms release spores like a plant would release pollen to promote new growth.
The spore stage can be viewed as the start and finish of a mushroom's life cycle. A mushroom has served its purpose when it has reached full maturity and produced spores. On the other hand, after this process is complete, a mature mushroom will almost immediately start to decompose.
Mushroom spores, however, also signify new life for the subsequent mushroom generation. They represent the pre-baby stage of the life cycle of a mushroom and are all identical because they lack female and male spores.
In the reproductive component of mushrooms, spores are expelled from the gills and pores (the fleshy part beneath the cap). Every day, trillions of spores are released into the atmosphere, where they innocently float while looking for the ideal location to germinate.
The floating spores germinate (or sprout) and develop into hyphae. This happens through mycelial expansion or mitosis when they come into contact with the ideal environment containing the proper amount of water and nutrients.
All the nutrients required for a mature mushroom fruiting body to develop and reproduce are present in the spores.
And so, we move on to the next phase.
2. Hyphae Phase
When two distinct spores combine, it creates hyphae, the basic unit of the fungal kingdom.
They are long, branched tubular structures that house the genetic material and cytoplasm of the mushroom.
Hyphae make it possible for nutrients from the soil and their surroundings to be absorbed. These nutrients are distributed throughout the mushroom by hyphae, supporting the entire life cycle of the mushroom.
Hyphae are classified according to their "sexes," and when - and + hyphae combine (much like a male and a female in a perfect love story), they fuse and create the mycelium, which is the network that extends throughout the entire Earth's crust.
3. Mycelium Phase
We can actually see this stage of the mushroom life cycle developing. Understanding what mycelium is and does is easy, just picture the mycelium as the plant's roots.
Compatibility between hyphae causes them to fuse together, creating a network of single-celled organisms called mycelium cells that is the center of both the mushroom life cycle and our natural ecosystem.
Mycelium cells serve as a vital link between the soil's microorganisms, nutrients, and plants, which are connected by the mycelium network. This is the beginning of the growing process, during which we can observe a mushroom (fruiting body) taking shape and growing above ground.
More than 92% of plant species interact with mycelium. It is also essential to the agricultural system, which provides a significant portion of our food supply.
The mycelium's job is to support the ecosystem as a whole continuously. To effectively nourish all the flourishing plants and trees in its environment, it works to balance the ratio of nutrients in the soil.
The mycelium serves as a middleman, dissolving its surroundings, absorbing nutrients from the soil, and supplying them to the connected plants. In exchange, plants give sugars to the mycelium and soil, which in this symbiotic relationship constantly replenish one another.
Mycelium contains all the nutrients needed to continue the life cycle of a mushroom. It also contains essential elements required to develop from a mycelial network into a hyphal knot, the beginning of the mushroom as we know it.
4. Hyphal Knot Phase
A hyphal knot is the first indication of an emerging mushroom. This is when a knot of mycelium forms close to the soil's surface; this knot will later grow into a "primordia" (also called baby mushroom, cute!). And the fact that this primordium is visible to the unaided eye indicates that all of the efforts are about to pay off.
When these baby mushrooms first emerge from their mycelial phase, they resemble a pinhead. Then, as they grow older, they start to sprout up from the ground or from the living or dead trees they are living inside.
A mushroom grower from a farm or a forager from the wild can actually see the emergence of what will eventually develop into a mature fruiting body and full-grown mushroom during this stage.
5. Mushroom Phase
The primordia then develop into an adult fruitbody, which is, voila, a mushroom! However, it's crucial to note that not all primordia will grow into a mushroom. The organism selects only those that show the best chances of surviving (it's a harsh world out there).
A mushroom matures from the hyphal knot and pinhead formation to grow larger and produce a fruiting body. We all assume that a mushroom is just the stem and cap, which is what we actually see when we see a fruiting body. However, we know that the mushroom is much more than its cap and stem.
The fruiting body, the most recognizable component of the mushroom, is made up of the cap, scales, and gills. Within the gills is a new generation of mushroom spores that are prepared to be released for the subsequent cycle of the mushroom.
When a mushroom reaches this stage of its life cycle, it is ready to be harvested. It can then be used in your favorite cuisines or incorporated into supplements such as powders, capsules, and tinctures (medicinal mushrooms, anyone?)
Why Do You Need To Understand The Mushroom's Life Cycle?
Comprehending the mushroom's life cycle helps us to understand our surroundings better. Additionally, you'll better understand how we consume fungi and benefit from their wonderful properties.
For instance, we can learn a lot about the various ways we can eat mushrooms from their life cycle. The fruiting body is typically harvested and eaten because it is delicious on toast. In addition, mushrooms are incredibly rich in nutrients like polysaccharides, triterpenoids, antioxidants, and other bioactive constituents.
How Many Days Does It Take For A Mushroom To Grow?
Every type of fungus has a different life cycle. For example, the lifespan of a mushroom can be anywhere from a few hours to many years. However, fungal species' mycelial networks can last hundreds or even thousands of years.
How Long Does Mycelium Live?
Theoretically, a mycelium that can spread through the ground could keep growing indefinitely. These can live for decades to hundreds of years.
Like most things in nature, the mushroom life cycle repeats itself. First, the mushroom's gills release spores into the air, which then find a suitable location to germinate, grow hyphae, form mycelium, condense into a hyphal knot, and produce yet another mushroom.
- Medicinal Mushrooms: Ancient Remedies Meet Modern Science, (1)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4684114/