Mushrooms are intriguing and mysterious finds, whether in a forest or your backyard. Where do they come from, and how do they actually grow? 

Mushrooms are not plants. They are in a different class of living things called “fungi” (if there’s more than one) or “fungus” for a single mushroom.

What do mushrooms eat?

Mushrooms “eat” by digesting dead organic matter, like fallen leaves or dead bugs.

Some other types of fungi eat and grow by attaching to other living things– such as growing on living plants, or by combining with algae. They may be beneficial to the other organism, or they may cause harm.



Where do mushrooms come from?

Mushrooms start out as tiny spores, which are small enough and light enough to be blown by the wind to new places.

Spores begin to grow and spread underground, sending out threads of fungus (called “hyphae” – HY-fay), forming a web-like network of branches known as the “mycelium” (my-SEA-lee-um).

When the fungus has the right conditions– moisture and temperature– they send a “fruiting body” above ground. This is what we call the “mushroom”.

How many kinds of mushrooms are there?

There are 10 basic shapes of mushrooms. There are many classes of mushrooms.

No one knows for sure, but there are estimated to be over 10,000 kinds of mushrooms. 

When combined with other kinds of fungi, that total is over 50,000!



What are the parts of a mushroom?

Mushrooms come in different shapes and sizes. Many share some common parts, though.

  • Cap: this is the top of the mushroom body. It might be smooth, rough, or maybe have space out bumps on it
  • Gills: these are under the cap, and this is where the spores come from
  • Stem: may be thick or skinny, and might be smooth or rough
  • Base: many, but not all, mushrooms have a larger base that is mostly underground

Have you found any mushrooms recently? If so, think about what shapes, textures and colors were unique to that mushroom.



What do you notice about the caps of these mushrooms?

What about the stems?

What do you notice about where they are growing?


Can mushrooms be eaten?

Some types of mushrooms are edible, and many people find them to be very tasty. You may have seen or eaten mushrooms on pizza, or a salad, or even had some mushroom soup before.

Be VERY careful, though. There are also many mushrooms that should never be eaten, and some kinds that can make someone very sick, or even be deadly. This is why you should never eat mushrooms that you find on your own, and also why you should be careful before picking or playing with any mushrooms.

If you find a mushroom growing wild in your yard, have an adult come help you identify what kind it is. Do not touch it, though, unless an adult has confirmed that it is safe to do so. If you have a pet dog, you should also make sure to keep it away from the mushroom, as some kinds may even make our pets sick if they eat them.


NEVER eat a mushroom that you find outside in the wild. Some might be safe to eat, but many are not! Any wild mushroom that is eaten must be correctly identified by an adult first!

Did you know?

The largest living organism known is a fungus!. It is called a honey fungus, and it lives in Oregon, where it is over 2 miles wide!

Can I grow my own mushrooms?

Yes you can! And many people do.

The easiest way to grow your own mushrooms is to find a growing kit, which will come with the “growing media” (substance that the mushrooms can grow on), spores (the seed-like start to the mushroom), and usually a plastic “tent” to help provide the right amount of humidity for them to grow.



Other Fun Mushroom Facts

  • One of the most expensive and sought-after edible mushrooms is the truffle


  • Penicillin, a medicine for treating infections, is a kind of mold that grows on cheese


  • Bread is also dependent on fungi. The yeast used to help bread rise is a kind of fungus, too.