Mushrooms are small living organisms that look like umbrellas. They are not plants because they do not have chlorophyll, the green material that plants use to make food. Mushrooms get their food from the living or dead plants around them. The 3,000 types of mushrooms around the world belong to the group of fungi.
Parts of a mushroom
A mushroom has two parts. The part underground is called the mycelium. It gets food for the mushroom. Sometimes it dies quickly, but if it gets enough food it may live for hundreds of years.
The umbrella-shaped body of a mushroom that we can see is called the fruit or sporophore. It only lives for a few days. The fruit starts out as a small button which grows into a stalk and a cap. The stalk or stem grows quickly because it can absorb a lot of water. As the cap becomes larger it unfolds like an umbrella. Soon small plates, called gills, appear under the mushroom’s cap. They have small seeds or spores on them. When these spores fall off the mushroom the wind blows them away. If they fall on a warm, wet area a new mycelium develops.
Mushrooms can have a diameter of up to 40 cm. Although some may be very colourful, most mushrooms are white, brown or yellow.
Edible and poisonous mushrooms
Some mushrooms are eaten as tasty food. We use them to flavour meat or soup or mix them into salads. They have a lot of vitamin B in them, as well as minerals like iron and phosphorus.
The common field mushroom is normally white with brown or pink gills. They are often grown in dark wet rooms where the temperature is always the same. Then they are brought to stores and markets where they are sold at high prices.
The best known and most widely eaten mushroom is the button mushroom. It has a short thick stalk and a white cap. Button mushrooms are found in all kinds of food, from pizzas to salads and stews.
Button mushrooms grown in a dark room - Darkone
Truffles are mushrooms that grow completely underground. Dogs and pigs can smell them and find the places where they grow. These mushrooms are very expensive and can be eaten in very luxurious restaurants around the world.
Other types of mushrooms are poisonous. They produce chemicals called toxins. Some toxins lead to diarrhoea or other illnesses, a few mushrooms are even deadly. They can cause liver damage or attack kidneys. Unless you get quick treatment death may come very fast.
Two very deadly mushrooms are the death cap and the destroying angel. The death cap appears in many colours, which is why it is difficult to identify. It has over twenty different kinds of poison it. The destroying angel is a beautiful white mushroom which grows in summer and autumn.
It is often very hard for people to tell between edible and poisonous mushrooms. So, never eat a mushroom you find unless you know what it is.
Importance of mushrooms
Mushrooms help plants grow. Together with bacteria they help dead material and minerals get back into the soil so that it can be used again. Some are useful in controlling pests of crops.
The Chinese have used mushrooms in medicine for hundreds of years. Certain types are turned into a tonic and used for treatment of illnesses. Scientists have found out that some mushrooms prevent high blood pressure.
- absorb = take in
- appear = show up; can be seen
- attack = here: hurt, damage
- bacteria = small living things that can sometimes cause diseases
- blood pressure = the force with which blood flows through your body
- cap = the umbrella-like cover of a plant
- cause = lead to
- chlorophyll = the material that turns plants green
- common = well-known
- completely = totally
- crop = plant, like wheat or rice which farmers grow and can be used as food.
- damage = destruction
- develop = grow
- diameter = from one end of a circle to the other
- diarrhoea = an illness in which most of the waste comes out of your body in a watery form
- edible = something that you can eat
- edible = something you can at
- field = area of land with grass
- flavour = to give food a special taste
- fungus – fungi = a simple plant that has no leaves and flowers and grows on other plants or rocks
- gill = plate
- identify = recognize, see, find out which one is right
- illness = disease
- kidney = one of the two organs in your lower back that separate waste products from your blood and make urine
- luxurious = very expensive
- organism = something living
- pest = small insect or animal that destroys crops or food
- phosphorus = yellow chemical material that starts to burn when it is in the air
- poisonous = with something in it that can make you ill or even lead to death
- prevent = stop, keep away
- seed = small hard objects that a plant produces; new plants grow out of them
- soil = the top part of the earth in which plants grow
- spore = the seed of a mushroom
- stalk = the long part of a plant that keeps the flowers and fruits upright
- start out = begin
- stem = same as “stalk” ; the long part of a plant from which leaves and flowers grow
- stew = hot meal you make by putting meat and vegetables into a liquid and cooking it for a long time
- tasty = delicious; with a good taste
- tonic = a drink that you have as a medicine
- toxin = poison
- treatment = cure, medicine
- unfold = open out
- widely = very much