Mushrooms are amazing because they can be so versatile, and they’re fairly easy to grow. Many people don’t know that there are different kinds of mushrooms besides the familiar button, shiitake, portabello, and morel. What’s more, each is prized for different reasons, and some can grow large, while others are more delicate and require certain conditions. So, are mushrooms plants or something else?
The final frontier has been explored and conquered. Up until about two centuries ago, mushrooms were, for all intents and purposes, considered plants. That is until an Austrian botanist named Elias Magnus Fries redefined them as fungi in 1837. That’s not the only change Fries made, though. He also classified mushrooms as his kind of animal, thus maturing what is now known as mycology. Today we have a more nuanced and complex understanding of mushrooms than ever before. But what about the mushrooms you eat? Do they really belong to the plant kingdom?
Are mushrooms plants? You might have thought so, but the whole debate has been simmering for a while now, with some people in favour of the so-called “mushroom plants” while others are firmly against them. The argument revolves around whether the fungi that grow on wood, in the wild, or in people’s homes are actually plants. Most botanists think they’re not, but you can find plenty of others who say otherwise. It’s all very confusing, really.
Mushrooms are a common part of the human diet. These edible fungi are a culinary delight and play a role in some cultures around the world. They are a source of vitamins, minerals, and the amino acid ergothioneine. They are one of the most commonly consumed foods globally, but they are rarely considered plants. In fact, they are fungi, which can be found growing in every country on Earth. You could argue that mushrooms are a sort of plant, but with certain characteristics that make them distinct from plants.
As you know, mushrooms are not plants. At least, they aren’t like the ones we usually think of plants as being. There is still some debate over whether fungi are plants. But regardless of whether they are, mushrooms are an incredibly diverse group of organisms that can be found on every continent except Antarctica.
You probably know that mushrooms are fungi, but you might not know why fungi are so important in the lives of all plants, animals, and fungi (yes, even humans). Fungi are essential for all life on Earth and have served as crucial food sources for all our species for hundreds of millions of years. They accomplish this by breaking down dead organic material in the soil, acting as decomposers, and decomposing the dead matter into nutrient-rich soil.
The mushrooms and other fungi we eat today are, in fact, not mushrooms at all. They are actually fungi, a group of organisms that mainly grow in soil or on other kinds of decaying organic matter. Some species of fungi are saprophytes, meaning they feed on dead or decaying organic matter.
The world of fungi encompasses the largest number of species on Earth and is second only to the animal kingdom. While scientists are still trying to figure out how mushrooms reproduce (and how those who eat them can get sick), the fungus community is enormous. Some are more than 90 percent vegetable, while others are more than 90 percent fungal.
Mushrooms are perhaps one of the more interesting and misunderstood plant substances on the planet. Contrary to popular belief, these tiny fungi do not grow on trees or the ground. Instead, the vast majority of mushrooms are agaric, meaning they grow in clusters on the decaying wood of trees and other plants. These fungi are different from truffles (which grow on the roots of trees) and also differ from edible mushrooms (which grow on the ground).
Mushrooms are a great source of nutrients to include in any diet. However, they are not plants, hence whether they are classified as plants or not. Mushrooms are more closely related to fungi and are, in fact, the only fungi excluded from the group of plants. They are primarily grown commercially in the form of mushrooms.