Recent rains bring a bumper crop of mushrooms

You might have noticed that there is a bumper crop of mushrooms growing in our forests, fields, and lawns following the recent spell of damp, soggy weather. These soggy conditions are ideal for the development of mushrooms, which sometimes require an extended period of wet weather to develop.

Mushrooms are actually the fleshy, fruiting bodies of a fungus. The mushroom serves the same purpose as the fruit of green plants, disseminating the seeds or spores, in the case of fungi. Once the spores germinate, the mycelium “roots” of the fungus begin to develop, and usually attach to living plants or decaying wood, logs, or other organic matter. This mycelium can live many years and become quite large, getting its energy by decomposing the organic material that it is feeding upon since it can not trap the sun’s energy like green plants. This decomposition of organic matter plays a vital role in the nutrient cycling of minerals in the soil, releasing minerals stored in organic matter to plants and animals in a form that they can better use. Once the fungus gets ready to reproduce, it develops the spores inside, or underneath the cap of the mushroom.

The typical mushroom has a cap, gills that contain spores, and a stalk. There are many variations, however, and many mushrooms look like large white blobs (puffballs), or other brightly colored shapes. It is estimated that there are nearly 2,000 species of mushrooms growing in our region. Mushrooms can develop quickly and turn to a gooey mess soon thereafter. The popular term “mushrooming” comes from the quick growth habits of this fungus. Besides “mushroom,” the name, “toadstool” has been passed down to describe many poisonous mushrooms. Some mushrooms are edible, but many are very poisonous and should be avoided. Edible mushrooms are low in fat and have large amounts of riboflavin, niacin, selenium, copper, and potassium.

Article by Mike Kay

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