Chris King

Spread by spores

Like mould and yeast, mushrooms are a kind of fungus.

Mushrooms use spores to reproduce. Spores don't contain as much food as seeds, which other plants use to reproduce. Spores are also smaller than seeds - in fact, they look like a kind of dust - and can spread further.

If you turn a mushroom upside down, you can see the gills underneath the main body of the mushroom. They look a bit like the gills fish have - but fish use their gills to breathe underwater.

The gills on a mushroom are feathery and this is where its spores come from. If you touch the gills on a freshly picked mushroom, you can often see its spores.

Food for thought


Some mushrooms can be eaten. But do not think all of them can.

Some will make you sick, some will have a strange effect on your mind, some of them will even kill you.

If you are not an expert on mushrooms, the best advice is never pick them to eat. Only eat ones you have bought at the supermarket.

Most mushrooms sold in shops are grown in mushroom farms. Wild mushrooms, like the matsutake which grows in parts of southwestern China, are very expensive.


The most common mushroom on sale in supermarkets is the 'button mushroom'. You have surely seen them. They are small and have a white head that looks like a button.

Button mushrooms can be stir-fried, put in soups and sauces ... in fact they go with almost anything.


Mushroom poisoning

An expert on mushrooms is called a mycologist, and even they get poisoned sometimes. Edible mushrooms - the ones you can eat - have poisonous cousins that look almost exactly the same. There are no rules you can follow to be sure to spot which is which. Even animals get poisoned eating the wrong mushrooms in the wild.

Different mushrooms poison people in different ways. The poisonous effects of some mushrooms can start within a few days. With others, it can take longer. The poison in one mushroom only starts to attack the kidneys 20 days after it is eaten.


One thing, though - despite all the stories you hear, mushrooms very, very rarely kill anyone. But they can make you feel extremely sick.

Mushrooms in language

Nobody is sure where the English word 'mushroom' came from. It seems to have been around for at least 600 years, though. Today it is used to describe more than mushrooms themselves.


Mushrooms can seem to appear overnight, so 'mushrooming' is used to describe the way something appears very quickly. And if something can suddenly be seen in many different places - such as a new type of car - you can say it is 'popping up like mushrooms'.

The huge cloud that appears after a nuclear bomb explodes is called a 'mushroom cloud'. Take a look at a photo of one on the internet - it really does look exactly like a mushroom.

now do this

1 Mushrooms are a kind of ...

a. spore

b. fungus

c. mould

2 A spore is a kind of ...

a. seed

b. fungus

c. mould

3 An expert on mushrooms is called ...

a. a taxidermist

b. a mushroomist

c. a mycologist