What a Fungi!
When you see a fungus, most of the time you only see it's genitals. Yes, that's right. The fruiting body, the part of the fungus that produce spores, sprouts up while the rest of the fungus is hidden in a log or underground. A fungi is different from a plant in that it does not photosynthesize. It differs from bacteria in that all fungi have a membrane bound nucleus in their cells. Fungi include yeasts, moulds, and mushrooms.
Yeasts are unicellular round or oval shaped cells that reproduce asexually through budding or binary fission, they are largely harmless. We use them in the making of bread, cheese, kombucha, and much more. Moulds (mold is the American spelling by the way!) are multicellular thread-like structures that can be very colourful. Mushrooms are the visible fruiting bodies of a mould that lives underground or in a log. Truffles are fruiting bodies that are underground.
Although truffles are well known to be delicious, not all of them are, and the same goes for mushrooms. According to www.inaturalist.org there are 28 edible mushroom species in Niagara. The Death Cap mushroom has been found in the area before and looks tasty and white, so I cannot recommend foraging for mushrooms. Thankfully the amount of deadly mushrooms in this area is not abundant, although many are poisonous. The scary thing is that symptoms may not appear for many hours, sometimes days, after consumption of a poisonous mushroom.
Including yeasts, moulds, and mushrooms, there are 350 known species that are consumed around the world. Surprisingly the largest organism ever found is one of these, it is an edible mushroom! It is a honey mushroom in an Oregon forest which covers 2385 acres (965 hectares) and is estimated to be 2400 years old! Read more about this species on www.guinnessworldrecords.com. As common with large and long lived species, reproductive success rate is low. Mushrooms can release millions of spores per day although it is possible that only a 2 or 3 of those spores grow into moulds.
Under perfect conditions the success rate could of course be much higher, currently there is very interesting research being done on mushrooms to use them as both plastic substitutes and plastic degraders. So far fungi have been grown to replace styrofoam. They are grown in a mold and then dried to be used in packaging. Other fungi have been found in landfills decomposing plastic in a matter of weeks. Of course the reason these applications are still not wide spread is because of funding. To learn more on plastic eating mushrooms visit ww.leaps.org/plastic-eating-mushrooms-let-you-have-your-trash-and-eat-it-too/.
I would love to hear about your own personal mushroom sightings and uses, so feel free to share with us on social media about your mycology adventures!