Mushrooms are spore-producing parts (spore bodies or “fruiting bodies”) of certain fungi. Each fungus grows a spore body when moisture and other conditions are right. Each microscopic spore under the right conditions can germinate like a seed into new feeding hairs of the fungus.
Spores dropped into the breezes from the pores or surfaces of the gills inside the caps of mushrooms can travel high in the atmosphere for thousands of miles. The Artist’s Conch releases large clouds of spores from the pores of its spore body.
Perhaps you have stepped on a puffball and witnessed the cloud of spores that is puffed into the air!
The feeding hairs (mycelium or hyphae) of the fungus is in the soil or tree where you may see some of them (white or other colored hairs or layers) if you do some digging around in the duff (decaying dropped leaves) or if you peel off the loosened bark of a dying tree trunk.
The spore body of many fungi releases its spores into
the air where even undetectable currents will carry the microscopic spores away.
Other spore bodies attract animals which can spread the spores.
The animals are attracted to the good smelling-tasting spore body and either feed on the spore body or the spore-laden goo that the spore body produces. Later, the spores, still alive, come out in the animals poop, where they may germinate into a new set of feeding hairs.
For example pigs, flying squirrels & voles eat truffles that are the spore bodies of these kinds of fungi. Flies feed on the stinky slime on phallus & stinkhorn fungi.
The spore bodies found on living or dead trees often have other shapes: conks, shelves, hooves, brackets, etc. Many of these spore bodies are hard perennials that live for a number of years. When you cut them open you’ll see their annually grown spore-producing layers. Each layer has vertical tubes that produce the spores that drop down into the air.
The photo to the right, taken in Hartley Park, shows Paper Birch with spore bodies of three different species grown out from the feeding hairs inside the trunk. The broad shelf-shaped spore body on the left part of the tree trunk is the Artist's Fungus. Its spore bodies are perennial. The smaller hoof-shaped spore body is of the Tindern Conk Fungus, also a trunk rotting fungus with a perennial spore body. The rest are Birch Fungus which has an annual spore body.
Many fungi are major wood decomposers in the forest that remove dead woody material (from trees, shrubs, etc.) and help make a good soil.
Many of our common well-known mushrooms on the forest floor are highly beneficial to our common trees, by way of mycorrhize,that connect the feeding hairs of the fungus to the feeding tips of nearby tree roots.
Some spore bodies are nutritious, some are inedible, and others are poisonous. If you choose to eat wild mushrooms, take the time to make a careful, accurate identification. Get yourself a good mushroom book, and start with the distinctive species that are relatively easy to recognize. You will find that are lots of delicious options to enhance your culinary experiences, and mushroom hunting is a fun and rewarding hobby.