More About Mushrooms
What is a mushroom? Mushrooms are actually the fruits of fungus. The fungus itself is simply a net of threadlike fibers, called a mycelium, growing in soil, wood or decaying matter. Mushrooms on a mycelium are like apples on an apple tree.
The function of a mushroom is to produce spores, which are the "seeds" of the fungus. Some kinds of mushrooms produce their spores on gills (the gilled fungi);some in pores (the pore fungi); some on teeth (the tooth fungi); some inside a leathery pouch (the puffballs); some on the inside of shallow cups ( the cup fungi, including the morels); and some simply on the surface of the mushroom (coral fungi and others). The spores form on these various structures, then fall off to blow away on the wind or be carried by animals, water or insects. If a spore lands in a suitable spot, it germinates and grows into a new mycelium.
The mushrooms most people recognize are the gilled fungi. These typical parasol-shaped mushrooms have caps with bladelike gills on the underside and stems with or without rings. The pore fungi are similar in appearance but have a spongy layer of tubes of pores on the underside of the cap instead of gills.
Mushroom collecting requires only the simplest of equipment: a flat-bottomed basket or box, a roll of waxed paper, a digging tool and a pencil and paper for notes.
Be sure to collect the entire mushroom, including the base. Take only fresh, young specimens that are free of insect damage. Each type of mushroom should be wrapped separately in waxed paper (not plastic wrap, which hastens decay), along with any notes you might want to make about the habitat and appearance of the mushroom. It's a good idea to note where the mushroom is growing (on wood, soil, moss); whether it is single or in clusters' the colors of the caps, gills and stem; and any other distinctive features. The more you can observe about the mushroom in the field, the easier it will be to identify at home.
Making a spore print
Individual spores are too small to be seen with the naked eye, but you can make a spore print that will show the color of the spores in mass. This color is an important identifying characteristic for many mushrooms, especially the gilled fungi.
To make a spore print, cut the stem off the mushroom and place the cap gill-side or pore-side down on a piece of white paper. To best see the spore color, use on sheet of black paper and one of white, taped together side-by-side. Cover with a bowl or jar. If the mushroom is at the right stage-not too young, too old or deteriorated-the spores will slowly collect on the paper. A spore print will be visible in one to 12 hours.