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What is a mushroom?

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

Mushrooms inspire a sense of wonder from many people. But what are these mesmerizing organisms? They grow from the ground or out of trees but are not plants. Even though they are not plants, they are also not animals. These mushrooms belong to one of the six kingdoms: fungi.

It's important to gain a little bit more understanding of this kingdom so you can be better prepared to start growing your own fungi. This section explains a few key biological features of a typical mushroom.



The fleshy part of fungi that creates spores. Depending on the stages of development, a mushroom might look different. In it's earliest stages of growth, the mushroom looks like a small stalk with a tiny cap. As it grows it may develop what's known as a veil that attaches from the stem to the cap. When it is fully matured, its features will become exaggerated. The cap will be quite large and the veil will break apart from the edge of the mushroom.

These fruit bodies can hold many nutraceutical benefits to humans who eat them. They can also be dangerous, depending on the variety.


The cap of a mushroom looks like a cute little umbrella. These caps sit on top of the stem, or sometimes referred to as a stalk. The cap is home to gills or pores, which is where spores are formed.


The edge of the mushroom is at the end of the cap. The veil for many gilled mushroom species have a veil that connects to the edge.


The gills of a mushroom are where the spores are produced. Spores carry the genetic information of the fungus.


This is the broken veil on a mature mushroom. Typically the veil detaches from the rim and lays against the stalk of the mushroom.

Intact and broken veils

Veil Remnant

This is the broken veil on a mature mushroom. Typically the veil detaches from the rim and lays against the stalk of the mushroom.

Stalk or Stem

The stalk (or stem) supports the mushroom cap. It is typically long and cylindrical shaped.


Mycelium is the vegetative part of the fungal lifecycle. It's comprised of many fine strands of branching, thread-like hyphae. The mycelium actively decomposes decayed debris, such as coconut husk and cereal grain. Mycelium is what gives rise to a mushroom.

As you can see on the image on the left, mycelium is growing in threadlike strands. When mycelium reaches the edges of its environment and appropriate environmental conditions are reached, the mycelium will produce mushrooms.


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