The main body of the fungus is made up of fine threads (hyphae) that group together to make a mycelium. Most of the time the mycelium is hidden from view because it is growing through the soil or under fallen logs or decaying plant and animal remains. The fungus breaks down the dead remains and releases simple food products that it can absorb through the hyphae that make up its mycelium. This is how the fungus gets food for growth.
When conditions are just right (which may be once or twice a year or sometimes more!) the mycelium can gather together to form a fruit body. So the fine threads that make up the mycelium that lies hidden from view can also form the fruit body of the fungus that we see.
The fruit bodies are the fruits of the fungus - just like apples are the fruits of the apple tree.
Fruit bodies come in lots of different shapes, colours and sizes. Fruit bodies that have a cap and a stalk are sometimes called mushrooms or toadstools.
The shapes of fungus fruit bodies
Some fungi produce club shaped fruit bodies yet some produce cups, others produce brackets which emerge from tree trunks, some fruit bodies are ball shaped and some are star shaped. There are jellies and fingers and even fruit bodies with eyelashes! There are so many different fruit bodies produced by fungi and lots of different coloured fruit bodies too!
What is hidden under the mushroom cap?
Mushrooms and toadstools have a stalk with a cap on top. Under the cap you will see either gills, pores or spikes. Sometimes the gills are crowded together, sometimes forked or of different lengths and sometimes spaced out or distant. The pattern that you see can be helpful in identifying the fungus fruit body.
Some fruit bodies lack gills, spikes and pores but have a soft spongy layer instead. Lemon Disco has a layer like this in her cup shaped fruit body.
What are fungal spores?
Spores are like seeds of a flowering plant. They are made in the fungus fruit body. Spores are microscopic. You cannot see them with the naked eye. To see them you must use a high powered microscope or make a spore print to see the pattern that millions of spores make on a sheet of paper.
Spores are released from the fungus fruit body by wind, rain and sometimes with the help of animals! When spores land on a suitable surface they grow (germinate) to make the fine threads called hyphae which eventually overlap to form mycelium. To grow the fungus must take in food and water from its surroundings through the fine hyphal threads. Under certain conditions such as changes in temperature, light intensity or some other environmental factor, the mycelium can develop into a fruit body and will make and release fungal spores. The cycle of spore release, growth and formation of the fruit body is then repeated.
Fungi can spread to new environments by making spores and releasing them from their fruit bodies.