4 Categories of Mushrooms – Where Do They Come From?
Despite the number of known species of mushrooms many do possess similar traits, and these have been organized into four categories of mushrooms: saprotrophic, mycorrhizal, parasitic and endophytic. The basis of this groupings revolves around how mushrooms grow or feed.
If you are wondering about growing mushrooms at home, then it is useful to know the differences between these categories…how and where they grow,
The term saprotrophic refers to the fact the organism lives off of dead or decaying matter. Saprotrophic mushrooms decompose the organic tissue around them to gather the nutrients from it…they cannot make their own food.
Mushrooms under this category can be found growing on fallen leaves, dead wood and plant roots. Due to feeding off dead material these mushrooms are not poisonous and are instead some of the most delicious edible mushroom varieties such as shiitake, oyster, and morel, as well as the famous medicinal reishi mushroom.
This category of mushroom prefers cool, moist weather to grow in, most of these mushroom types are composed of 80-90% of water, as well as neutral-acidic earth, ideally registering under PH7.
Mycorrhizal mushrooms are an interesting category due to the way they interact and benefit trees and plants.
These mushrooms weave into the root cells of the plants or trees they form on and provide the plants with extra moisture and nutrients; whereas the plants provide the mushroom with sugars (glucose).
Farmers and gardeners feed their crops with using mycorrhizal mushrooms to improve it growth and health.
This category of mushroom is not easy to cultivate and can mainly only be found in the wild. They cannot grow in certain conditions such as ground that has been over-cultivated, or which has too much phosphorus.
These edible mycorrhizal mushrooms are among the most prized and expensive to buy. These include porcinis, chanterelle mushrooms and perhaps the most gourmet of them all truffle mushrooms.
Parasitic mushrooms also make use of plants and trees as hosts but instead of benefiting their hosts they infect and kills them. These mushrooms draw the nutrients from the trees and plants.
In this category, however, mushrooms do not just stick to growing on plant matter.
There is a type of mushroom that also grows on insect larvae called Cordyceps. Cordyceps are also purported to have many health benefits as does the edible Lions Mane mushroom and the Chaga Mushroom. Chaga mushrooms have been used for centuries to improve immunity and overall health, a cup of Chaga tea is full of antioxidants.
Endophytic mushrooms are another mushroom category that invades its host but, instead of causing harm, the host benefits.
The endophytes help to increase nutrients and builds up resistance to disease. So, this category has similarities to both parasitic and mycorrhizal mushrooms.
However, they can be cultivated easily and do not need a host. This category is still the most mysterious and there needs to be more study to fully understand their relationship with plants.
Many endophytes do not produce a mushroom making them difficult to spot in the wild.
The variety of mushrooms available to us seems almost infinite. Understanding how they differ, how they form and grow, and how they interact with other plants and organisms helps us to select those that are most beneficial to our palates, health and enjoyment in growing them…as well as doing the least harm to our environment.