The Life Cycle Of A Mushroom Explained

There’s an invisible world beneath our feet. 

A world that spreads through the soil like a vast, interconnected railway network. A world that gives nutrients to plants and trees, and indirectly, insects and animals. A world that decomposes organic matter at the end of its life – returning nutrients back to our precious soil.

A pair of hiking boots standing on the forest floor

Yep, and it’s all thanks to the humble mushroom.  

The life cycle of a mushroom is as fascinating as it is essential. You see, the world as we know it would not be the same without them (think: buried under a mountain of litter because nothing would be broken down – yikes).

So, understanding the life cycle of a mushroom gives us great insight into the world around us. Not only that, but you’ll better understand the way we consume fungi and reap its wonderful benefits.

So, let’s make like a mycelium network and break it down…

 

The Life Cycle Of A Mushroom

The mushroom life cycle can be broken down into five stages.

  • Spores
  • Hyphae
  • Mycelium
  • Hyphal knot
  • Mushroom

But first, what even is a mushroom?

Not quite plant, not quite animal – mushrooms belong to the fungi kingdom. Which for comparison’s sake, is more closely related to humans than plants! 

And the mushroom fruitbody we know and love is only a minuscule part of a larger cycle – yep, there’s a whole chain of events that occur before you even think about munching on a delicious portobello.

In a nutshell: there’s an underground network of mycelium (similar to the roots of a plant) that produces the fruiting body of a mushroom (similar to a flower).

A mycelium network sprawling through the soil

But it goes a little deeper than that, so let’s scratch below the surface…

 

Stage 1: Spores

There’s nothing sporing about this stage. 

Similar to how a plant would spread pollen to encourage new growth, mushrooms send out spores. A spore is a reproductive cell that bursts out of the mushroom gills (underside of the mushroom). When they land on favourable conditions, they begin to grow (germinate) and we move on to the next phase… 

 Mushroom gills close up

Stage 2: Hyphae

Say hi to hyphae. This is when branches of fungi fibre called hyphae start to grow from the spores. These hyphae absorb nutrients from the environment, allowing the fungi to thrive.

And just like a perfect love story, when compatible hyphae (two different “sexes”) come together, they form mycelium.

 

Stage 3: Mycelium

Myceli-what-now?

Mycelium is the vegetative part of the mushroom that breaks down organic matter and absorbs nutrients from the soil (like the roots of a flower).

It’s literally everywhere - growing through the earth forming an enormous underground network.

There is also a mutually beneficial relationship between the mycelium network and plants, called mycorrhiza. The mycelium provides nutrients and water for trees, while trees give fungi organic molecules like glucose. It’s a tit for tat type of deal that benefits up to 80 – 90% of all plants! (1)

So, we can see why many gardeners and farmers rely on mycelium to add nutrients to the soil and create thriving plants.

 Mushroom mycelium in the soil, with hypal knots at the surface

Stage 4: The Hyphal Knot

The first sign of an emerging mushroom is a hyphal knot. This is when mycelium comes together to form a knot near the surface of the soil, which will soon develop into a “primordia” (aka baby mushroom, cute).

This primordia is visible to the naked eye, which means all the hard work is about to pay off…

 

Stage 5: Voila, Mushroom

With that, the primordia transforms into a mature fruitbody, also known as a mushroom.

But it’s important to add, not all primordia will turn into a mushroom. The organism chooses a select few with the most promising signs of survival (it’s a tough world out there).

The final mushroom is made up of a stem, gills, cap and scales (and of course, the mycelium threads at the base).

And as with most things in nature, the cycle begins all over again: the spores release from the mushroom gills, searching for a suitable place to land, germinate, grow hyphae, form mycelium, condense to a hyphal knot and create yet another mushroom.

 Mushroom-life-cycle

So, why should you (the mushroom eater) care about the mushroom life cycle?

The mushroom life cycle tells us a lot about the different ways we can consume mushrooms.

Most commonly, we harvest and consume the fruiting body because it tastes damn good on toast. Not to mention, mushrooms are incredibly rich in nutrients like antioxidants, polysaccharides, triterpenoids and other words you’d rather not say aloud.

Turkey tail a birds eye view

But in recent times, research has confirmed the efficacy of consuming mushroom mycelium and its fermented substrate alongside the mushroom fruiting body (3). Peer-reviewed articles confirm the health benefits are plentiful, from supporting brain health to increasing energy and improving immune function.

At Natura Mushrooms, we’re guided by this research. We grow, harvest and extract our Lion’s Mane, Turkey Tail and Reishi Mushrooms – and incorporate a combination of the fruiting body and mycelium brown rice substrate in our final product.

 

 

Shop our extracts.

Shop our powders.

 

Written by Shane and Ash, the scientists, mushrooms farmers and garden enthusiasts behind Natura Mushrooms. 

 

More resources:

  1. https://www.anbg.gov.au/fungi/mycorrhiza.html
  1. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-28354-5
  1. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/immune-benefits-of-mushroom-mycelium--fermented-substrate-validated-by-peer-reviewed-science-300970408.html
  1. https://hostdefense.com/blogs/host-defense-blog/the-mushroom-lifecycle