Nature Notes

Vol. IX June, 1931 No. 5


Toadstool or mushroom -- how do they differ? Many people believe that the former term applies to poisonous forms and the latter to the edible but as a matter of fact the two terms are synonomous. A toadstool is a mushroom and visa versa. Those plants have, in many ways, been linked for centures with mythology, superstition and the like due, principally, to their manner of growth and their peculiar forms which so adequately tie in with the numerous legends that have grown up about them.

Interesting as these legends are they are no more interesting than the plants themselves. In reality the mushroom that we see is the fruiting body and occupies the same position to the entire plant as the apple does to the apple tree. For within the forest mold, decaying wood or similar matter where the mushroom is found are a multitude of small thread-like strands called the mycelium which is, in reality, the plant. Being saprophytic or parasitic mushrooms are not green, and cannot manufacture the food necessary for their growth and development. Hence the are dependent upon the nourishment which is absorbed by the mycelium from the medium wherein it grows. Most everyone has at one time or other observed these numerous white threads in decaying logs Occasionally the mycelium is so closely matted, particularly in logs that are checked, or split, that the resulting closely compressed mycelium resembles chamois skin. Such a specimen is included in our fungi collection in the Park Museum. Where the threads of mycelium join there one finds the point at which a mushroom generally develops. Thus under suitable moisture and temperature conditions the mycelium "blooms" -- forming the mushroom often with such rapidity that they seem to be prompted by some magic power.

First the "button" stage is formed (1). And as it develops it passes through the various forms sketched below (2 & 3), breaking from the membrane which encloses it and finally developing the mature fruiting body (4) with which everyone is familiar.

sketch of stages of mushroom growth

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