A World of Mushrooms

With most of my attention on birds, wildflowers, butterflies and other insects, I did not always look carefully at mushrooms during my walks in Eliza Howell Park. This has changed. I now stop for mushrooms, especially in September and October when they are most abundant, both in numbers and in variety.

Mushrooms, in different shapes and sizes and colors, can be found pushing up from the ground in almost any section of the park, often but not always near trees. Some have the familiar umbrella shape.

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The majority are white. This collage of white mushrooms includes examples that do not have the stereotypical umbrella shape.

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A mushroom is a fungus (but not all fungi are mushrooms); fungus is its own kingdom in the classification system, separate from plants. The part that rises from the ground is the fruiting body, only a small part of the much larger organism that lives underground.

I sometimes think of mushrooms as non-plant flowers, especially the colorful ones.

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Mushrooms have long been hunted as food and some varieties are cultivated. Selecting naturally growing mushrooms for dinner can be risky if one does not know them extremely well; some poisonous ones look very similar to edible ones.

When I stop and look, my interest is observation, not eating. I have to admit, however, that this one, about 6 inches across, reminds me of a loaf of bread!

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Most mushrooms are soft and short-lived. They are the reproductive stage of the organism; they sprout, open up, and drop their spores.

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Many mushrooms have gills from which the thousands of spores (reproductive cells) drop and disperse. Picking or cutting a mushroom (which does not harm the larger organism) provides an opportunity to take a look at the gills on the underside of the cap.

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Some mushrooms grow from the soil and some grow from (often decaying) wood. Those shown above are ground mushrooms. Just as fascinating are the wood mushrooms, including bracket or shelf fungus.

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A look at varieties of bracket fungi in Eliza Howell is a project for another time. It was difficult enough to select/limit the pictures of the ground mushrooms here. There is a whole world of mushrooms out there!

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