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The beginner's guide to mushrooms.

There are between 50,000 to 100,000 known species of fungi . So obviously there are some difficulties in classifying them all, however the system used today is called the linnaeus system (1753 Species Plantarum) named after the Swedish biologist Carlos or Karl Linn (1707-78). He placed fungi into three major classes which are based on their similarities in lifestyle and reproduction.

They are , Basidiomycetes and the Phycomycetes.

The Ascomycetes have spores inside long terminal cells.

The Basidiomycetes have spores borne on stalks outside the terminal cells.

The Phycomycetes are microscopic.

So for examplecup fungi, morels and truffles come under Ascomycetes.

While puff-balls, stink horns, field mushrooms and the bracket fungi come under the Basidiomycetes.

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The life cycle of fungi.

Fungi start life as microscopic spores. The common field mushroom produces around 1,800 million while a puff-ball will produce 7 billion spores, at any one time there can be up to 1500,000 spores in a cubic metre of air. These are dispersed by the mature mushroom through various means, on the wind by rain or transported in and on birds or animals (including humans). They can travel vast distances, to eventually find a suitable habitat and start a new life, which can be any one of the following: compost, leaf litter, top soil, straw, dung, dead wood, leaf mould or a live tree. Any number of various reasons can trigger off this great escape, it can be either, heat, time of year, rain, wind or simply a touch by passing wildlife. Some can lay dormant for years and not start to develop until the right circumstances prevail, even then very few succeed but if it is lucky enough to land where the conditions are exactly right and it is happy and content, it will quickly start to develop into a thread-like cell, which is called hyphae.

This hyphae then inter-weaves into a subterranean woolly cottony looking fibrous mesh called mycelium which is the 'root-system' this is the spawn phase of the mushroom.

Fungi are microbial which means they cannot manufacture food and contain no chlorophyll, so are dependant on their surroundings for all their nutrition. This mycelium absorbs nutrient from organic matter that surround it. This is how the well known annular or fairy rings come about, they use up all the nutrient in the immediate area so the only fungi spores that can grow, are on the outside and so the circle gets bigger and bigger.

After the spawn stage of the mycelium it begins to develop what look like small knots called hyphal aggregate which progress into sclerotium. This is the first phase of the developing mushroom, these small knots then differentiates into a primordium the beginning of the fructification which quickly grow into a recognizable and fully formed mushroom (some in a matter of only hours). Then the life cycle of the fungi starts all over again, with the dispersal of new spores from the mature mushroom.

So given the right condition and a lot of luck anybody can grow mushrooms!

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