The fungi kingdom is an essential part of the Earth’s ecosystem and integral for its health and survival.
Mushrooms create what is called a mycelium network.
The mycelium is the root structure of a fungal species–one stage of a fungi life span that branches throughout the Earth’s crust creating an underground interconnected network that connects plants and trees with microorganisms and nutrients, enabling symbiotic relationships and increasing health benefits for the planet.
The life cycle of a mushroom is something we can learn more about to better understand how the healthy mushrooms we consume grow and develop.
This article will break down the life cycle of a mushroom, highlighting the mushroom lifespan and each phase of its evolution as it progresses from a spore (seeds) to a mushroom fruiting body.
Table of Contents
The mushroom life cycle
The life cycle of a mushroom begins and ends through five stages of evolutionary phases – beginning as a fungal spore (seeds) and completing its cycle as a mature fruiting body – the part of a mushroom we all identify and know– that releases new spores to create a new cycle all over again.
The mushroom life span varies between fungi species. One complete life cycle could take one week or up to a month or more.
As each stage of a mushroom life cycle is completed, the division and creation of the next generation of the fungal organism begins.
Read on to learn how a mushroom is defined and more detail about each of the five stages of a mushroom life cycle.
How to define a mushroom
What is a mushroom you might be wondering?
A mushroom is not a plant, nor is it part of the plant kingdom as many people might believe.
The anatomy of mushrooms is more similar to plants but in fact, metabolically speaking, mushrooms are more closely related to humans than plants, and is in a classification all of its own.
Mushrooms are part of their own kingdom, the fungi kingdom.
Fungi are heterotrophic, meaning they are an organism that sources all their nutrients from other organisms – such as the soil and the environment.
Mushrooms are more similar to humans in their respiratory function.
Like humans, fungi breathe in oxygen and expel carbon, whereas plants take in carbon (CO2) and expel oxygen (O2).
Mushrooms are also the primary decomposers and recyclers of our ecosystem which naturally works to improve the immune system of its environment.
The Mushroom Life Cycle explained
Spore Dropping Process
Spores are like mushroom seeds. They’re the pre-baby stage of a mushroom life cycle and are asexual meaning they’re all the same, there’s no female or male spores as can occur in some plants.
Spores are the reproductive unit of the mushroom and are released from the gills and pores of mushrooms (the fleshy part under the cap).
Trillions of spores are released each day, innocently floating around the air searching for the right place to germinate.
When the floating spores find the ideal environment–with the right amount of water and nutrients present–these spores germinate (sprout) and turn into hyphae via mycelial expansion or mitosis.
Spores contain all the nutrients needed for a mature mushroom fruiting body to grow and reproduce.
Becoming a Hyphae
When two different spores come together, they form hyphae – the basic fungal unit.
Hyphae are long branched tubular structures and contain the mushroom genetic material and the cytoplasm (4).
Hyphae enable the absorption of nutrients from the soil and the environment they’re in. Hyphae transport those nutrients throughout the mushroom, supporting the entire mushroom life cycle.
Hyphae have “sexes" and when a - and + hyphae combine (similar to a male and female), they fuse and build the mycelium – the network that exists throughout the entire Earth’s crust.
Compatible hyphae fuse together and form a fertile and functioning mycelium cells network– single celled organisms that form the epicenter of our natural ecosystem and the mushroom life cycle.
Mycelium cells act as the crucial interface between the soil, it’s microorganisms, the nutrients within it and the plants which interlink into the mycelium network.
It’s the formation of the mycelium that begins the growing process where we can physically see a mushroom (fruiting body) taking shape and start growing above ground.
More than 92% of plant species link together and interact with the mycelium (5).
The agricultural system, which is a big part of our food production and supply, also relies on mycelia.
The role of the mycelium is to provide consistent support for the entire ecosystem. It works to balance the ratio of nutrients within the soil so it can effectively nourish all the thriving plants and trees in its environment.
The mycelium act as the middleman; breaking down its surrounding and absorbing nutrients from the soil and provide it to the plants connected.
In return, plants provide glucose to the mycelium and soil that work to consistent replenish each other in this symbiotic relationship.
Mycelium contains all the nutrients required to continue a mushroom life cycle and see it cycle from mycelial network into a hyphal knot – the start of a mushroom as we know it.
The Hyphal Knot
We can think of a hyphal knot as the beginning of a young mushroom, which is also known as a Primordium.
These baby mushrooms form a pinhead as it starts to evolve and sprout from its mycelial phase, and as it matures, begins to sprout up from the earth or from its living or decomposing trees it lives within.
This is the phase where a grower from mushroom farms or a wild mushroom hunter can physically see the emergence of what will become a mature fruiting body and full-grown mushroom.
Pinhead to Mushroom
From the hyphal knot and formation of the pinhead, a mushroom then matures, growing bigger and creating the fruiting body.
The fruiting body is what we see when we see a mushroom – the stem and cap and is what we all think a mushroom simply is. But we know the mushroom is so much more than its cap and stem.
Additionally, not all pinhead and hyphal knots produce mature mushrooms. The environment is crucial to its evolution and whether a mushrooms life cycle will be completed.
The fruiting body – the iconic part of the mushroom - consists of the cap, scales, gills and within the gills are a new generation of mushroom spores, ready to be released for the next mushroom life cycle.
This is the stage in the mushroom life cycle when the mushroom is fully grown and harvested.
Your Questions Answered
Where and when does fertilization occur in the mushroom life cycle?
Spores are the reproductive unit of the mushroom and fertilization occurs during the fusing of compatible fungal spores to form hyphae.
At what position in the life cycle does the mushroom perform its function
The mushroom mycelium network is the epitome of the mushrooms function.
How many days is a life cycle of a mushroom?
The life cycle of a mushroom varies between each fungal species. The life cycle of mushrooms can range between 1-2 days and up to many years. The mycelial network of fungal species can exist for up to hundreds or thousands of years.
The mushroom life cycle is an important aspect to the consumption of mushrooms, whether medicinal mushroom extracts or gourmet mushrooms.
Not only that, the existence of fungal organisms and the cultivation of the mushroom is integral to the health and ecosystem of the planet.
Starting out as asexual spores, fungi grows into hyphae, a mycelial network, a hyphal knot, pinhead, and if the right environmental conditions occur, a mature mushroom fruiting body will form in which the stem and cap are easily recognized by our eyes.
From the mature mushroom fruiting body, new spores are released, and the entire fungi life cycle process starts again.
- Medicinal Mushrooms: Ancient Remedies Meet Modern Science - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4684114/
- Healing Mushrooms by Tero Isokauppila
- Lifespan and functionality of mycorrhizal fungal mycelium are uncoupled from host plant lifespan - https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-28354-5
- How Fungi are Constructed - http://website.nbm-mnb.ca/mycologywebpages/NaturalHistoryOfFungi/Thallus.html
- Mycelium - https://www.micropia.nl/en/discover/microbiology/mycelium/
- 6. The Ecology and Physiology of the Fungal Mycelium: Symposium of the British Mycological Society Held at Bath University 11–15 April 1983
Written by Eliza Hedley
Eliza Hedley is an Australian born health, mindset and abundance enthusiast obsessed with helping millennial's experience living at a higher level.
Eliza's relaxed new age approach and understanding of nutrition and wellness sees her empowering and coaching individuals to understand that their health is the ultimate asset. Upon experiencing first hand the power and place of tonic herbalism and medicinal mushrooms in everyday life, Eliza’s become an adaptogen fangirl and feels their utilisation in today’s world is essential for abundance and wellbeing.