Hello reader, I want you to take a second and imagine a mushroom. What does it look like? Is it doing something exciting? Is it hiding any secrets? You might be answering some of these questions with a very hesitant no… but maybe you’re slightly intrigued as to where I’m going with this. To a naive observer, a mushroom on a log is nothing more than a mushroom on a log. It might look like they’re doing a whole lotta nothing, but they are actually doing A LOT for our ecosystems.Let’s pull back the curtain on the secret lives of mushrooms.
Unique as can be…
Mushrooms are actually the “fruiting body” of a fungus, which is kind of like the fruit of a plant. But wait.. are fungi considered plants? Not at all, they’re neither plant nor animal. They can't make their own food compared to plants and they digest food externally when compared to most animals. They're part of the kingdom of fungi, truly one of a kind!
Did someone call a clean-up crew?
Mushrooms are decomposers. That’s a science-y way of saying they know how to clean up a mess. They break down dead, decaying, rotting things in the forests and help in natures’ recycling process. So how do they clean things? Mushrooms secrete special substances called enzymes that break down organic matter and recycle nutrients back to the soil.
A tiny little mushroom growing on a log might look super lonely on its own. What if I told you there’s so much more to it? Beneath the mushroom is actually a whole network of fungi. These massive fungi networks infiltrate tree roots and help them absorb nutrients easily. It also helps trees connect with other trees and communicate between them. It’s like a network of fungi WiFi underneath the ground!
Food for the critters
They keep our food chains in check and maintain a flow of energy in the ecosystems. Many insects, slugs and little birds depend on mushrooms to feed themselves. Mushrooms come in all different shapes, colours and toxicities and these creatures know what to eat and what to stay away from.
A future with fungi
Did you know that there are fungi that can break down plastics and clean up oil spills? They’re also used in many other innovative ways such as packing materials, building materials and even mushroom “leather” .The possibilities seem endless!
These miraculous mushrooms help our world go ‘round in so many different ways. We count on them to clean up decaying plant matter and human-made plastics, feed animals and insects, and help trees connect with each other. Knowing all these secret responsibilities, it’s hard to look at fungi the same, isn’t it?