The world of mushrooms and toadstools

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When people ask what the difference is between mushrooms and toadstools, I say I don’t know.

Some believe that mushrooms are palatable and toadstools are not, or that toadstools are poisonous but mushrooms are not.  There is no scientifically accepted difference.   By whatever label, mushrooms, toadstools, coral fungus, puffballs and so on are all fungi and there is no botanical difference between mushrooms and toadstools.

Actually, any mushroom or toadstool that a person isn’t acquainted with should be considered poisonous to humans.  They may be okay for bugs to eat but may be toxic to humans.

Fungi are plants.  They just lack chlorophyll.  The part of the fungi plant’s development that we notice is the reproductive stage, while underground the force that produces the mushroom is a comparatively large network of mycelium, or root-like fibers, that make up the main part of the mushroom plant.  This is sometimes 20 to 30 feet in extent.  One may break apart a rotten log or root and see these whitish threads weaving through the decayed material.  These threads get nourishment from dead organic material, giving mushrooms the saprophytes they need.  They get nourishment from dead material and have no chlorophyll, or at least very little, generating none or little of their own nourishment.   Some more familiar saprophytes include some orchids, coral-roots and Indian pipe, pine-drops, and pine-sap.

Mushrooms are very delicately and interestingly engineered.  You may have noticed that some mushrooms have vertical layers radiating from the stem while others have thousands of little pores on the underside, giving them a sponge like appearance.   The type with the lamellae or thin filaments has another feature.  You can take one of these before it gets infested with bugs or worms and make a spore print.  Place a fresh mushroom cap, with the stem removed, on a piece of black paper.  The next morning you may have a spore print on the paper.

Mushrooms add variety to a meal, but it seems what makes mushrooms so delicious are the onions, herbs, salt and all the butter that is added.  A healthy mix?  It seems very few people eat just mushrooms by themselves, except to test a small piece for toxicity.  One could just leave out the mushrooms and get about the same amount of nourishment from the rest.  I find it is not worth the effort and expense to gather mushrooms.   It is more efficient to put one’s energy into growing healthy vegetables, greens, legumes, herbs, berries and fruit.  One could do much better on dandelion greens, flowers and roots than on mushrooms.

Late summer and fall seem to be the best time for spotting mushrooms.  This fall, there has been an abundance of mushrooms (and toadstools) and other fungi in our Kootenay forests.  You guessed it!  It was the cool and moist conditions.   There has been a wide range of diverse sizes, colors, and shapes among many species.  Most are gone now but many species came up at various times, providing a continuous display of beauty and intricacy all season long.