Are Mushroom and Fungi the Same Thing?
All mushrooms are fungi, but not all fungi are mushrooms. Mushrooms are the fruiting body of fungi that typically grow above ground. Or at least, that is true generally speaking. Fungi is a large kingdom and for a fruiting body of a fungi to be a mushroom it must meet some criteria (which isn’t always fully agreed upon) like having spores on the outside of their bodies (why it is debatable whether or not a truffle is a mushroom).
Fungi is a whole Kingdom of species, and a vital part of earth’s ecosystem. Mushrooms aside, fungi also include yeast, mildew, and mold (none of which are mushrooms, but all of which are fungi).
Thus, fungus refers to all organisms in the fungi Kingdom. Mushroom just refers to the specific part of mushroom-bearing fungi that fruits and spores (botanically at least, culinary the whole mushroom-bearing fungi is typically called a mushroom).
This is similar to the difference between flowers, fruits, nuts, and vegetables, an apricot tree technically has all these things, but only the apricot (and its seed) are technically fruit (anything that doesn’t come out of the flower is a vegetable, everything that does is a fruit, including nuts).
So what is a fungi anyway? This video shows the life cycle of fungi. From spores, to fungi, to mushroom, and then back to spores again. The cycle repeats.
FACT: There is a giant fungi that covers 2,384 acres (965 hectares) of soil in Oregon’s Blue Mountains, that is 1,665 football fields, or nearly four square miles (10 square kilometers).
What Makes a Mushroom a Mushroom?
A mushroom is any spore bearing fruiting body of a fungus generally speaking. This is true even though we call other parts of the fungi mushrooms (such as a mushroom stem).
Any part of a fungus that isn’t a spore-bearing fungal fruit, isn’t a mushroom. This is analogous to how all fruits come from flowers, and all vegetables are the non-fruit parts of plants.
Fungi themselves have several features that make them mushrooms including a cap and a spore bearing surface (which can be gills, pores, ridges, or teeth). The stem of a mushroom is a fungus and not part of the mushroom, and other types of fungus like mold, mildew, and yeast can be single celled and don’t have the same anatomy as mushrooms. See a breakdown of the different spore bearing mechanisms here.
FACT: In common language it is fine to call a fungus and mushroom, but technically speaking only the cap and spore bearing surface is a mushroom. This is true even though the word fungus comes directly from the Latin word fungus, which literally means mushrooms.
I Am A Mushroom Hunter | INDIE ALASKA. An ecologist shares her love of fungus.
FACT: Fungi are one of a small number of different kingdoms of Eukaryota (multi celled organisms) along with plants, animals, and algae.
What Makes a Fungi a Fungi?
Fungi are genetically different than plants and animals. In simple terms, they balance out plants and animals. Plants create the oxygen we have on earth as part of their process, mushrooms have a similar purpose. Fungi are the principal decomposers in ecological systems, as their process includes digesting food by secreting digestive enzymes into the environment. The result of this is the fertilization of the ground that plants live in.
The symbiotic relationship between plants, animals, insects, fungi, and algae can’t be overstated. Life on earth wouldn’t survive without mushrooms. Over 90% of all plant species engage in mycorrhizal (symbiotic) relationships with fungi and are dependent upon this relationship for survival.
Fungi Symbiotic Relationship With Plants.
FACT: Fungi are genetically more closely related to animals than to plants.
FACT: Fungi is used as the basis for a lot of our medicine. Aside from the happy symbiotic relationships, fungi are often parasitic by nature. Like bacteria they often come as a house guest, wanted or not.