Outforia Quicktake: Key Takeaways
- Mushrooms grow in various environments, such as forest floors, house walls, meadows, and even on other fungi and animals.
- They require moisture, low light levels, and a suitable substrate for growth.
- Some of the best places to find and forage mushrooms include Shaxi in China, Tuscany in Italy, Lubuskie Forest in Poland, and Snowdonia in Wales.
- Mushrooms can be divided into three main types: saprophytic, parasitic, and symbiotic mycorrhizal.
- To grow your own mushrooms, create a controlled indoor environment or make a mushroom loggery outside.
You can often smell mushrooms when you’re getting close to them. The damp air carries their thick, earthy rich scent well. Moreover, most fungi like temperate climates. This is why you find them in temperate places such as Europe, North America, Japan, and rainy England!
Mushrooms don’t just grow on forest floors, though you can find many of them there. You can find fungi growing in house walls and sunny meadows, or on other fungi, animals and even on human skin!
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What Do Mushrooms Need To Grow?
If you’ve ever tried growing your own edible mushrooms, you’ll know that they need these three factors in their environment:
- Low light levels
Mushrooms need water for their fruiting body to grow. The fruiting body has a permeable membrane instead of skin. If there’s not enough water in the air, the water in the fruiting body will evaporate. This causes the fruit to dry and shrivel up.
If they have too much water, this will kill them too, as they need to be able to exchange gasses via the air!
Low Light Levels
Mushrooms tend to grow in the shade. But does the sun harm them? No! Actually, they need a few hours of sunlight a day to form fruiting bodies. It’s more the fact that a lot of strong sunlight dries them out. Plus, then they would have to compete with plants.
By taking the dark places over, mushrooms are filling a place which would otherwise be barren!
Mushrooms need low light levels to spawn.
In many cases, fungi grow out of and digest rotting wood or live trees. Some fungi grow from soil and are connected to plants through mycelium – tiny fibers that can transmit nutrients and chemicals. The substrate very much depends on the type of fungi.
The Best Places to Find and Forage Mushrooms
Where are the very best places to go and see fungi at their best? Read on below.
1) Mountain of Mushrooms, Shaxi, China
This mountainside in Yunnan is host to 850 types of wild edible mushroom. You can take a nine day tour which goes through the Shaxi region as well as several others. A foraging guide will identify your haul, then local chefs will prepare meals featuring your fungi.
You’ll also walk the ancient Tea Horse trail and meet friendly monkeys!
The mushroom tours in Yunnan run from July to September, which is the rainy season. The forest here is incredibly biodiverse, with over 800 species of mushroom and 700 species of flowering plants.
2) Truffle Hunting in Tuscany, Italy
You can go truffle hunting in Italy. White and black truffles are one of the most expensive mushrooms on the planet, with a divine rich taste that is like nothing else. A tour guide will take you to the best area for truffles and make sure you have the right fungus!
You can go on a 5-day cookery school and truffle foraging expedition. You also get to see the city of Arezzo and practice cooking with other local ingredients like chestnuts, honey and other types of edible mushrooms.
Croatia is also a great place for truffles. David Campbell of MycoVentures runs foraging expeditions in both Italy and Croatia. You can also find truffles in Willamette Valley, Oregon, US.
3) Lubuskie Forest, Poland
Guides will take you trekking through the Lubuskie Forest to pick ceps and many other edible species. Every Polish family heads out to pick mushrooms in the summer. Children learn from an early age how to recognise edible and poisonous fungi in the forest.
Roztocze is also a good place for fungi foraging.
You can hire a cabin to sleep in and book on a forest tour.
4) Chesterfield, Missouri, USA
This forest is well known for edible mushrooms. Go with a local guide from the Missouri Mycological Society! They run weekend camping trips and cooking classes as well as tours to identify fungi. Try the Mark Twain National Forest for a good haul.
You can pick beauties such as this Chanterelle, which smells of apricots!
5) Morel Hunting in Illinois, US
Choose a mushroom hunting holiday in Illinois, USA, and get to pick some of these legendary morels yourself.
These honeycomb-like fungi are a gastronomic treat, used by top chefs to enhance the flavor of dishes across the world. Moreover, morels are a spring mushroom.
The best time to pick Morels is in April, so time your holiday right!
Go with a local guide, who will be able to show you the difference between edible Morels and the Turban Fungus, which is poisonous.
There’s also bonfire parties, horse riding, and clay pigeon shooting.
6) Snowdonia Mushroom Foraging Tours, Wales, UK
Rainy Wales is the perfect mushroom hunting spot, and Snowdonia one of the prime jewels in its crown.
The high hills are covered in a blanket of lush green and mushrooms from all that lovely rain. I have drunk crystal clear spring water that gushes from the sides of the hills there.
Wales is also well known as the home of the poisonous hallucinogenic mushroom the Liberty Cap.
The owner of the Mushroom Garden in Snowdonia, Cynan Jones, leads mushroom tours and grows shiitake and oyster Mushrooms at his Mushroom garden. He runs these from Beddgelert in North Wales. You will be foraging for both grassland and woodland species.
7) Myoko-Togakushi-renzan National Park, Japan
You can take a day trip into the park with an experienced local forager, who will teach you how to safely identify and prepare mushrooms. You will then cook them together at the end of the trip. The forage lasts 4.5 hours and is best done in the autumn.
The forages are run by Otari Nature school and run from September 18th to November 7th.
Japan’s temperate climate makes it ideal for mushrooms, and mushroom dishes are an integral part of Japanese cuisine.
8) Parasitical ‘Aztec Caviar’ in Mexico City
Head to Mexico, South America for a taste of the local fungal delicacy of aztec caviar – huitacoche. This is a fungus that lives on ears of corn. It is said to taste amazing, a bit like the Mexican version of truffle. It has a smoky taste, a cross between truffle and shiitake mushrooms.
This fungus is highly regarded in the US, Germany and France. It’s tasty in tortillas and quesadillas with some chillies added.
It’s rich in essential amino acids and very nutritious, according to the Center for Research in Food and Development (CIAD). The only problem is – it looks like blobs of blue black car tyre stuck in an ear of corn!
9) The New Forest, UK
The UK is a great place for mushrooms, as it is famous for its rainy, damp conditions! The New Forest is a big protected forest where you can go for fungi with Garry Eveleigh, an experienced forager with 40 years experience.
There’s wild ponies living here too, a special breed that calls the New Forest home.
Once you have had a safety briefing and Garry has helped you identify your catch, you’ll head back to The Pig in Brockenhurst. You’ll be treated to gourmet freshly prepared mushroom meals, together with locally caught trout.
10) Westerpark, Amsterdam
Amsterdam is famous for its mushroom-loving culture – mostly concentrating on psychedelics!
There’s nothing to stop you searching for edible wild mushrooms, however! Which the Netherlands is also very good for.
You can join a wild foraging walk run by Eat 2 Gather in the forest of Baarn near Amsterdam. You can add on a cookery class experience, or a high tea at the castle nearby!
Types of Mushrooms
There are different types of fungi that feed in different ways. Here they are in all their glory!
These fungi feed on dead and decaying organic matter. That includes rotting wood, dying trees, pine cones, and dead animals.
Saprophytic fungi are essential for a healthy ecosystem. They help break down organic wastes into soil. Without their services, woodland floors would be littered with dead things, and plants wouldn’t have enough soil!
A parasitic mushroom’s favorite substrate is another living being. This can mean another plant. For example, wheat in the case of ergot. It can also be an animals’ skin or fur. Sometimes the host can be another mushroom!
The lobster fungus is a good example of this. This is a parasitic fungus that grows bright orange all over the top of a Russula mushroom!
These fungi work in partnership with plants. Their mycorrhiza (thin tubes) attach to plant roots and share nutrients (like minerals such as phosphorus) that the fungus has made available to the plant. In return, the plant shares sugars and the products of photosynthesis.
Now that’s being good neighbors!
Roughly 80% of the world’s plants share some sort of symbiotic relationship with a fungus! This partnership is vital to the health of the world’s ecosystems.
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Types of Saprophytic Fungi
Saprophytic fungi are scavengers, breaking down dead plant and animal matter. They are not bad guys however! The job they do is vital to the survival of our ecosystems. Plus, many of them are tasty and edible, as long as you eat the right ones!
They’re also the largest group of macro fungi. These fungi are much larger than their microscopic relatives.
Brewer’s Yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae)
Yeast is saprophytic, feeding on plant matter. When you make wine or beer, the yeast is feeding on the dead plant matter. It secretes an enzyme called zymase, which turns sugars into alcohol.
Mold (Aspergillus, Penicillium, Rhizopus)
Yes, mold! That scum that grows on damp house walls is a member of the saprophyte family! As far as mold is concerned, it’s just doing a good job of decomposing some dead matter – in this case, food, plaster or wood.
Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus)
Like many other tasty edible fungi, oyster mushrooms feed on dead matter. In their case, this means dead and dying trees. Saprophytic fungi release enzymes that break down the wood. After that they can absorb the released nutrients.
Types of Parasitic Fungi
Parasitic fungi are called phytopathogenic fungi. Fungi that parasitize animals are called zoo-pathogenic.
Here are some memorable examples!
Ringworm (Trichophyton, Microsporum,Epidermophyton)
Ringworm disease shows up as a circular red mark or rash on the skin of people, pets and cattle. Despite the name, it’s nothing to do with worms and everything to do with fungi! The fungi responsible spreads its spores by skin flakes left on towels, bedding and clothes.
The fungi types that can cause this are called Trichophyton, Microsporum, and Epidermophyton. Of these, there’s 40 different fungal species that can invade our bodies and use us and our pets as a host!
Cordyceps (Ophiocordyceps unilateralis)
This cunning fungus infects insects such as caterpillars and ants.
One species infects ants. It controls their behavior, sending them walking like zombies up the stem of a plant, where they face North. The fungus then eats the ant from the inside out, killing it.
Finally, the fruiting body grows out of the deceased ant’s head. This sheds its spores, infecting new ants. It sounds terrible, but this fungus has an important job – to keep ant populations in check.
Ergot (Claviceps purpurea)
Ergot has devastated cereal crops grown by people for thousands of years. It’s a fungus that attacks rye, barley, oats and wheat. It forms a dark fruiting body in the crop, called a sclerotium.
One of the poisonous components of ergot is lysergic acid, commonly known as LSD! Albert Hoffman synthesized LSD from ergot in 1938. Victims of the ‘Salem witches’ were also thought to be suffering from ergot poisoning.
Types of Symbiotic Fungi
Now here’s the friendly types of fungi you would want to sit next to at a dinner party! Symbiotic fungi have several ways of sharing nutrients with their neighbor, such as a plant. Two of these are mycorrhizal and lichen.
They’re also called “mutualistic fungi.”
Lichen (Lichinaceae family)
Lichen are actually a weird hybrid of a fungus and a simple plant like a cyanobacterium or green algae!
The fungus provides a structure with water and nutrients – a bit like giving the cyanobacteria or algae a house to live in! The cyanobacteria or algae can photosynthesize, giving the fungus sugar and carbohydrates.
Lichen are really stunning, too! And fun to feel with your fingers. Below is a Lipstick Powderhorn lichen. It looks like coral!
Ambrosia beetles and Ambrosiella or Raffaelea Fungi
Ambrosia beetles farm a type of fungi! They tunnel holes into trees, deliberately planting spores into the tunnels. The fungus gets transplanted into a new host, and the beetles get a steady supply of delicious fungal food.
Ambrosia beetles target trees with high ethanol content, as this promotes the growth of their fungus whilst inhibiting the growth of other types that they don’t eat!
How weird is that – beetles using ethanol to grow fungus allotment gardens!
Mycorrhizal fungi can be ectomycorrhizal, endomycorrhizal, or trichoderma.
Ectomycorrhizal fungi attach their hyphae (fine threadlike tubes) to the surface of plants.
Endomycorrhizal fungi penetrate the plant’s cell membranes, producing balloon-like vesicles or branching structures called arbuscules. This helps the transfer and sharing of nutrients. Orchids make use of this type of bacteria!
Trichoderma are sac fungus that partner with conifers. They can help trees share nutrients with another more needy, weakened tree! Below is a Trichoderma fruiting body.
How to Grow your Own Mushrooms
Okay, so you want to grow mushrooms to eat, or for possible medicinal benefits. What’s the best way to grow mushrooms, and where should you site them?
It’s best to grow mushrooms in an indoor area where you can control the amount of sunlight and humidity. Sheds, under stairs cupboards, cellars, and cold frames (mini greenhouses sited in the shade) are all good places.
Outside, you can make a mushroom loggery. I have made a few of these at community garden projects. Or you can grow mushrooms in grow bags and compost heaps out of direct sunlight.
You can buy a ready made Grow Kit, complete with mushroom spawn plugs, substrate and instructions. These are great if you only want one kind of mushroom, and to not accidentally be growing a wild type!
Making A Mushroom Loggery
Mushroom loggeries are great if you have a shady part of your garden which stays damp year round. They look beautiful and create a bountiful harvest of edible mushrooms!
All you need is:
- Freshly cut poplar logs (or other fungus friendly logs)
- Edible mushroom spores on dowel pegs
- A drill
- Order your preferred mushroom spawn online. You can choose Lion’s Mane, Shiitake, Oyster and many more. They will come pre-inoculated on wooden dowel pegs.
- Choose a nice shady, damp corner of the garden.
- Arrange your poplar logs in a nice pattern that will not fall over. For added stability and extra moisture, dig one third to one half of the log into moist ground beneath. You can place them upright, which looks lovely, just make sure they don’t fall over.
- Drill holes the size of the dowel pegs into the logs.
- Tap in the spawn dowel pegs with a hammer.
- Water with a watering can or hose.
- Wait at least four weeks to six months for the fruiting bodies to appear! Keep the logs damp.
We made one of these at a community garden. We mistakenly sited it too far away from the water tap. It dried out over the hot months, and no one could be bothered to carry buckets of water that far to douse the logs.
So, site your mushroom loggery near water. Or even better, in a damp place that you don’t have to keep damp!
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Where Do Mushrooms Grow FAQs
How do mushrooms spread?
Mushrooms can spread by means of spores. Spores are like tiny microscopic ‘seeds’ that can be carried by wind or by animals. Some are propelled by the fungus itself! They can also spread by the underground mycelium growing larger. The largest living organism on Earth is a US fungi stemming from one mycelial network!
Where in the world do the most mushrooms grow?
The best places to find fungi are temperate zone countries with lots of rain.
In 2021, China had the highest level of mushroom production, producing 41,117,737 tonnes. This was followed by runners up Japan and Poland. These figures are for commercial mushrooms and wild foraged mushrooms prepared for sale.
How long does a mushroom live?
A mushroom’s mycelium or underground parts can live and grow for just four weeks in the case of oyster mushrooms. They can also live for thousands of years.
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