While mushrooms may like the dark, you don’t have to stay in it when wondering about their life cycle. Whether you’re a mushroom cultivator or want to know more about mysterious mycelium, the mushroom life cycle is a fascinating topic to learn about.
What is the Mushroom Life Cycle?
The mushroom life cycle is largely invisible to humans, shrouding it in mystery for most of us who have no experience cultivating them. From the release of spores to the development of fruit bodies, the mushroom life cycle follows the rapid, complex development of everyone’s favorite fungi.
How Long is the Mushroom Life Cycle?
The duration of the life cycle of mushrooms varies from mushroom to mushroom based on their size and environment.
Some mushrooms may go through their entire life cycle in as little as a day, while others may survive for a week, and some even for a month. Mushrooms in moist environments will grow steadily, while those in drier conditions may take more time.
Stages of the Mushroom Life Cycle
Mushrooms are complex organisms, so naturally, their life cycle isn’t totally straightforward. To make it more understandable, we’ve broken down their life cycle into 5 easy to digest stages.
1. It Starts with Spores
It all starts with a spore, one of billions, released from the gills of one mushroom’s cap. The spores may land close to their parent mushroom or, if it’s a particularly windy day, far away. If they’re lucky they’ll land in favorable conditions on a substrate they can feed on. Those lucky enough to land in the ideal environment will then begin to germinate.
Once they germinate they’ll divide by mitosis creating a thread-like fiber called the hypha which branches out of the germinated spore.
The hypha is made up of mycelium and is the main course of vegetation and growth for the mushroom. Creating a tangled mat of fine threads, the hyphae stretch over the environment near the mycelium, releasing chemicals to dissolve food. They then digest the nutrients from that food, which are absorbed by the mushroom.
2. The Fungi Gets Freaky
The hypha’s main mission is to find a spore of the opposite sex, who is a genetic match, to bond with. In its search for love, the hypha will extend until it meets its match.
The mood is set, probably on a moist log in the dark somewhere. The hypha, when they meet, are attracted to each other and get right to business, bonding and combining, creating a cell with two nuclei.
The hyphae tightly wind around each other until a hyphal knot is formed. This meeting starts the stage of sexual reproduction for fungi, also known as plasmogamy. The combined genetic information of the two spores gives the mycelium everything it needs to produce a mushroom.
3. The Mushroom Develops
In this stage of the mushroom life cycle, the mycelium takes control finding nutrients to break down for the mushroom, fueling its exponential growth, it also acts as the mushroom’s immune system, repelling competitors and predators with protective compounds and enzymes.
The mycelium will grow through its environment, branching out in every direction to create a dense network through which it decomposes organic matter to absorb nutrients. A mycorrhizal relationship is formed with whatever substrate the mushroom is perched upon, whether it’s a tree or soil.
4. The Knot is Tied
As the mycelium continues to flourish in its ideal conditions, it nears the end of its dikaryotic phase. Once all the nutrients around the mushroom have been absorbed, or a change in the environment occurs, like a drop in temperature, the mycelium will start to fruit.
During this phase, myriad enzymes are produced around the hyphal knot to create fruit bodies. The resulting small white shape is called the “primordium” which some people call “tiny pinheads” because this visible white pigment looks like a tiny mushroom cap.
The tiny mushroom’s caps will continue to grow, in a completely visible process to the naked eye, until they reach the shape and size of developed mushrooms.
5. The Final Breakdown
At the end of the mushroom life cycle, fruit bodies form, often only existing for a few days before disappearing. The mushroom channels all of its energy and nutrients towards developing fruit bodies which will then release spores.
Billions of spores are ejected and travel, until they find the ideal conditions to grow in, restarting the mushroom life cycle.
Want to learn more about mushrooms? Check out our Know Your Mushrooms page for more information about the mushrooms used in our products!