21 Marvellous Facts About Mushrooms

21 Marvellous Facts About Mushrooms

A delicious food or a deadly poison? A magical totem or a medicinal marvel? The mushroom has occupied an often contradictory mix of obscure and mundane positions throughout history. Indispensable to ecosystems and fundamental to the evolution of all terrestrial life on earth, the mushroom is a truly remarkable feat of nature. Keep reading to discover 21 marvellous mushroom facts!

21 Amazing Mushroom Facts

forest mushrooms
  1. Mushrooms are the fleshy, bulbous, fruiting bodies of fungi. All mushrooms are fungi, but not all fungi are mushrooms since not all fungi produce fruiting bodies. There are currently around 40,000 known varieties of fungus which produce these fruiting caps. 
  2. Much like the seeds of a flower, the mushroom’s fruiting body produces millions or even billions of microscopic spores which allow the fungi to spread. The mushroom ‘cap’ of the fungi will typically only appear periodically, whilst the root-like ‘mycelium’ part of the fungus persists for decades or even centuries underground. 
  3. Taxonomically, the fungi family is considered distinct from plants or animals. Mushrooms may seem relatively simplistic organisms, but they are actually incredibly intelligent and complex. Their DNA is more closely linked to humans than to plants, and they get their energy from consuming food rather than from photosynthesis like plants. 
  4. Mushrooms are critical to the woodland ecosystems in which they live. They provide food for many woodland creatures, from deers to squirrels, to insects and even bears. In return, these animals aid the spread and survival of mushrooms by helping to disseminate their spores as they travel around the forest. Some of these creatures can safely consume mushrooms which may be poisonous to humans. mushroom facts
  5. As well as providing food, mushrooms also provide a vital decomposition and disposal service within the ecosystem. They are incredibly efficient recyclers, excreting enzymes that feed on decaying organic matter and transforming it into energy for themselves, simultaneously releasing nutrients back into the surrounding environment, enriching the earth for local plants and animals. Without mushrooms, the forest floor would soon become suffocated by dead and decaying organic matter, and plant life would cease to exist. 
  6. Fungi are undoubtedly some of the oldest and most established lifeforms on planet Earth, yet scientists are still puzzling over the evolutionary timeline of mushrooms. It was originally thought that terrestrial plants and fungi evolved simultaneously and symbiotically around 500 million years ago. New fossil evidence, however, now suggests that the earliest mushroom ancestor evolved more than a billion years ago, predating the evolution of plants by millions of years. It is hypothesised that fungi actually paved the way for the evolution of terrestrial plants by breaking down rocks and bacteria on the surface of the earth to create mineral-rich soil. 
  7. Mushrooms were once the largest lifeforms on earth! During the Devonian period, 360 million years ago, before the evolution of trees, giant megafungi known as Prototaxites colonised the earth, standing at a colossal 8 meters tall. 
  8. Mushrooms have been foraged by humans for food, medicines, and rituals for millennia, although the domestication of mushrooms was a rather late development. Mushrooms are notoriously tricky to cultivate, as they require very specific conditions, and even today, many edible species have proved almost impossible to domesticate. 
  9. Although they are not plants, nutritionally speaking, mushrooms are classed as vegetables, despite having no leaves, roots, or seeds. Mushrooms are one of the only vegetable food sources which can generate vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. They are also a great source of niacin, potassium, fibre, and calcium as well as being low fat, low calorie, and low sodium.  facts about mushrooms
  10. In many cultures, mushrooms are seen as a widely available and relatively cheap staple food source. Certain mushrooms, however, are among the most expensive, sought after, and luxurious foods in the world. Truffles are subterranean mushrooms that grow from the roots of trees and require a very specific climate. They can routinely command prices of up to $2,500 per pound. Notoriously tricky to commercially cultivate and difficult to locate in the wild, their high price tag is due to the labour-intensive foraging and collection process, usually involving pigs or specially trained dogs who sniff out the aromatic truffles which must then be carefully extracted by hand. 
  11. Whilst many species of mushrooms are both delicious and nutritious, a small minority are poisonous to humans and potentially deadly. Often these deadly varieties closely resemble those which are safe to eat. The aptly named ‘death cap’ mushroom is the most deadly. The toxicity of death cap mushrooms is caused by amatoxins, which, when ingested, can cause nausea, headaches, vomiting, and ultimately, kidney failure. Symptoms usually begin within 6-12 hours after consumption and are fatal in around 50% of cases. 
  12. There is an edible mushroom variety that tastes exactly like fried chicken! Laetiporus sulphureus, or ‘chicken of the woods’ grows wild on tree trunks across Europe and North America and is bright orange in colour. 
  13. Some mushroom species are well known for their psychoactive and hallucinogenic properties. There are around 216 species of hallucinogenic mushrooms containing the chemical psilocybin, which researchers believe works by connecting parts of the brain that wouldn’t usually communicate with one another. Aside from recreational use, psychoactive mushrooms have been shown to alleviate a range of mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. mushroom fact
  14. Humans have known of the medicinal properties of mushrooms for thousands of years, and modern mycologists (mushroom scientists) continue to research their potential medical uses. Possessing antibacterial, antiviral, antimicrobial, and anti-fungal properties, experimental research has been carried out which shows that mushrooms can help to treat conditions such as HIV and cancers. 
  15. There is evidence that mushrooms were consumed in spiritual and medicinal rituals as early as 10,000 BCE. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics depict mushrooms as sources of immortality and eating them was forbidden for anyone other than the Pharaohs. Ancient Meso-American civilisations also ascribed spiritual value to mushrooms and they were used in shamanistic rituals due to their hallucinogenic properties. In ancient China and Japan, mushrooms such as shiitake were associated with longevity and strength because of their immune system boosting properties and have been used in traditional alternative medicine for over 2000 years.
  16.  It was thought that the notoriously savage Viking warriors known as the berserkers would eat hallucinogenic mushrooms before heading into battle to induce fearlessness and ferociousness. 
  17. You may have seen mushrooms growing in almost perfectly circular arrangements, known as ‘fairy rings’. This naturally occurring phenomenon happens because of the dissemination of underground root-like networks of fungi mycelium. The rings start off small, but get larger every year and can expand to over 300 meters in diameter. Fairy rings are the subject of much traditional folklore, particularly in Europe, where they are said to be marks of the devil, remnants of witchcraft, or evidence of fairies dancing. It is said that if humans enter the circle, they will be condemned by the fairies to dance within the ring until they die from exhaustion. fact about mushrooms
  18. The stinkiest mushrooms belong to the Phallaceae family, commonly known as ‘stinkhorns’. They produce a foul odour likened to rotting flesh or dung. It is thought that they do this to attract flies and other insects which will disperse their spores. 
  19. Mushrooms have been used to help clean up some of the most devastating pollutants in a process known as mycoremediation. Special mushroom species have been utilised to to soak up lingering radiation in the Fukushima nuclear reactor vicinity, to clean toxic waste left behind in the Ecuadorian Amazon after Chevron/Texaco’s petroleum extraction, and to degrade polyurethane plastics in Swiss lakes. Some species of mushrooms are even able to break down heavy metals such as mercury. They do this by digesting the toxins from the environment and transforming them into beneficial nutrients which they release into the soil, thus enriching and fertilising the environment for the future. 
  20. Some species of mushrooms are bioluminescent, meaning they glow in the dark. This stunning phenomenon is seen in many mountainous woodland areas and rainforests across the globe. It is caused by a chemical called oxyluciferin and is thought to be a way of attracting insects to the mushrooms so that they can disperse their spores. 
  21. ‘Toadstool’ is a common moniker for all manner of mushrooms, although it is most commonly associated with the somewhat cartoonish red and white spotted Amanita muscaria or ‘Fly Agaric’ mushroom. It is thought that the name ‘toadstool’ first emerged in 17th Century Europe when fairytales and folklore often described poisonous toads perched atop mushroom caps. Toads were commonly associated with venom and disease, and thus, it became common thought that mushrooms became poisonous when the toads sat upon them, leading to widespread distrust and fear of mushrooms. This fear was exacerbated by mushrooms’ tendency to appear from the decaying and decomposing remains of other woodland plants and animals. 

mushrooms

From nuclear clean-up operations to bioluminescent light shows, from medieval fairytales to modern-day hallucinogenics, these fascinating fungi have a great deal more to offer than just food. Without mushrooms, terrestrial life may never have evolved, and ecosystems, as we know them, may cease to exist. These diverse and flamboyant members of the fungi family are truly invaluable in so many aspects of our modern lives (just keep away from those death caps!). You might even say that mushrooms are the Champignons of the natural world.

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