Mushrooms come in all shapes and sizes, but they have one thing in common: the majority of the mushroom’s structure is actually underground. Millions of thin threads called hyphae create a giant web known as mycelium – a necessary precursor to the actual mushroom. These threads, called hyphae, can branch out for miles, collecting nutrients and connecting to trees and other fungi along the way. If you’re fascinated by the diversity and history of gourmet mushrooms, just wait until you learn more about the mycelium that allows them to grow!
What Lies Beneath the Forest Floor
No mushroom can grow without access to the nutrients found underground. When you see even a single mushroom in the forest, you can be sure that there’s an impressive network of mycelium right beneath your feet. The fungi obtains nutrients through this mycelium, but it also acts as a means of communication between trees, whose roots are connected to each other through the mycelium of fungi. This allows the tree to send and receive information and nutrients to the surrounding trees. They communicate things like their nutritional needs, lack of water, and more.
Mycelium in Action
Mycelium is necessary when growing mushrooms for food, not just for keeping our forests healthy. Mushroom growers jumpstart the process by combining mushroom spores with a growing medium called a substrate. When cultivating mushrooms for grocery stores, restaurants, and CSA members, the spores we add to our substrate quickly form mycelium which in turn produces mushrooms. Check out this photo of our at-home grow kit. You can see the white mycelium colonizing the substrate so the mushrooms can begin to grow!
New Applications for Mycelium
Mycelium’s fast growing fibers are great at constructing mushrooms, but that’s not all they’re useful for. We can direct the growth of mycelium to create packaging, clothing, food, construction materials, and more. When viewed as a technology, mycelium is truly one of the most promising advancements in biofabrication. For example, imagine using a sustainable and biodegradable material in place of the plastic that is already ravaging our environment. Making the switch from traditional livestock to meat substitutes created with mycelium is another way we can become more sustainable. This plant-based alternative leaves a much smaller environmental footprint by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the use of food crops for feed, and land use conversion.
We’ve not even begun to scratch the surface of mycelium’s applications in biofabrication. From medical advancements to sustainable food and fashion, mycelium may be the sustainable material we need to make a big difference on this planet – and it’s all thanks to the humble fungus!