Sandy's Garden ... Musings About Mushrooms

They’re back! The mushrooms have reappeared, as if by magic, in my garden.

By Herald Reporter
Monday, 26th October 2020, 9:37 am

Come to think of it, they’ve never really been away, although some of them haven’t been in evidence for the better part of a twelvemonth and others have not put in any previous appearances to the best of my recollection.

And, although it seems to me that they appeared literally overnight, this is not quite the case. The parts which I can see are the umbrella-shaped fruiting bodies of organisms … the sporophores … which have sprung out of a network of very thin strands … mycelia … which have been lurking underground in my garden awaiting the correct conditions to trigger the start of the fruiting process.

As one might expect, the initial development of the sporophores usually takes a few days, during which time the minute groups of cells which form the basis for the fruit … the primordia … establish themselves on the surface of whatever material the mushroom is growing on … the substrate.

Falkirk Herald gardening guru Sandy Simpson

But then -KABOOM! Rain encourages the primordia to soak up moisture greedily and to expand very rapidly, quite literally, ‘mushrooming.’ The fruit … the mushrooms or toadstools … quickly release organisms which are designed to ensure the survival and future of the fungi … the spores … and, in most species, promptly collapse, their function fulfilled.

It all sounds pretty chaotic, pretty risky and a whole lot of work for very little at the end of the day. But mushroom-like fungi have been around for longer than the human race, for longer than trees and comfortably pre-date the dinosaurs, so their technique works rather well as a strategy for survival. (I wonder if tyrannosaurus rex enjoyed some raw mushrooms with its raw edmontosaurus steak?)

Add the facts that the mycelia in my garden may well have been living happily there for many years, feeding on dead and decaying organic matter; that every time I import compost into my garden, I may well get a free bonus of some mushroom spores; and there is a pretty good recipe for long-term existence.

I have called the umbrella-shaped growths in my garden ‘mushrooms,’ although I don’t know that they are. The common belief that mushrooms are edible while toadstools are poisonous is just plain wrong.

There is no scientific distinction between them; and there are some edible toadstools and some highly toxic mushrooms. I shall not, however, t offer any from my garden to Ailsa to use as an ingredient in any recipes; and neither, gentle reader, should you, unless you are an expert in these matters … a mycologist … or have a trusted friend who is.

And there are plenty of varieties to choose from, some of them with rather unexpected, supposedly common names. The horse mushroom, for example, or the scaly wood mushroom, the inky mushroom or the yellow stainer.

However, in the supermarket or the greengrocer’s, where I strongly recommend that you buy farmed mushrooms unless you are a mycologist, you will find the most popular variety is the white ‘cultivated mushroom’ (hardly surprising!) … Agaricus bisporus … whose popularity is confirmed by the plethora of other common names with which it has been blessed - white mushroom, button mushroom, cultivated mushroom, table mushroom, and champignon mushroom among them.

Somewhat confusingly, the original variant of this particular species was brown; and the brown common mushroom is still to be found on the shelves under the soubriquet the portobello mushroom.

In Brazil, the ancestral home of the Agaric family of mushrooms, Agaricus Blazei Murill rejoices in the common names ‘The Sun Mushroom of the Aztecs’ or ‘The Mushroom of God.’ Half a century ago two researchers observed that people who ate these mushrooms tended not to develop serious chronic illnesses as they grew older.

Sadly, our Agaricus bisporus doesn’t share that supposed characteristic, though they are tasty in soups and stews.