Understanding How Mushrooms Grow


Amanita muscaria or Fly Agaric – picture by Rex Trulove

Mushrooms belong to the plant kingdom, but they aren’t what most people think of as plants. They contain no chlorophyll so they can’t produce their own food like common garden plants can. Mushrooms usually grow in a way that is similar to how plants grow and yet totally different.

Life cycle beginning

The mushroom starts out as a spore. In some ways, a spore is sort of like a seed, though it is also quite different and normally much smaller than even the smallest seeds. However, it is useful to think of it as a seed, since people tend to be more acquainted with the growth of plants.

In order for the spore to germinate, the conditions need to be just right. The soil and air temperature, amount of moisture, amount of sunlight and shade and the available nutrients are all important for whether or not the spore will germinate and grow. Some mushrooms are pickier than others, but all of them need the right conditions for growth. It is because they are so picky that a fruiting body of a mushroom can produce many thousands of spores, but only a few dozen are likely to grow in nature.

Mushroom mycelium

When the spore germinates, it begins to produce microscopic branching structures called hyphae. The hyphae in turn produce tiny hair-like structures called mycelium. Mycelium are exceptionally fine and there can be hundreds or thousands of them in a small area; twisting, turning and intertwining just under the surface of the soil. Though people usually don’t think of it this way, the mycelium is actually the mushroom and most of the life of the mushroom is defined by their action and growth, under the surface of the ground. The mycelium can also be spread out over a large area. A chanterelle mushroom (Cantharellus cibarius) fruiting body can be a little smaller than a human fist, yet have mycelium that covers several square feet or more.

Mycelium are responsible for both absorbing the moisture and nutrients that are needed to survive, and for initiating the production of the fruiting body. It is the fruiting body that most people think of as mushrooms, though these are only produced toward the end of the mushroom’s life cycle.

A compatible match

Unlike flowers, vegetables, fruits and herbs, mushrooms aren’t pollinated and don’t even produce pollen. Pollen is the male cell that fertilizes the female ovum of plants to produce the seeds for the next generation of the plants. Since mushrooms have no pollen, another way must be found for fertilization.

This happens when the mycelium comes into contact with another compatible mycelium. Both must be at the right stage of development and the conditions must again be right. If so, the two combine and a fruiting body is produced. If the situation isn’t right, though, the mycelium will eventually die, having never produced what we think of as a mushroom.

The fruiting mushroom

If the fruiting body is produced, it usually grows up through the surface, though not always. As it matures, thousands of tiny spores ripen, the result of the union between the mycelium. Once the spores are ripe enough, they are released to begin the life cycle once again.

The whole sequence is a great deal more complex than this, however this is how mushrooms grow. The amount of time it takes for a mushroom to grow from a spore to a fruiting body depends upon the kind of mushroom and the growing conditions. As mentioned, some types of mushrooms are far pickier than others.

For example, Shaggy Mane mushrooms (Coprinus comatus) take as little as two weeks to grow from a spore to a fruiting mushroom and it grows so easily that it can even be grown in a laboratory without difficulty. However, a morel (Morchella genus) can take over three years to produce a fruiting body, even under good conditions. It should be mentioned that a morel isn’t actually a mushroom, though it is a fungus. However, that is a topic for a different article.

Mushrooms grow in much the same way plants do, but there are some noticeable differences. One of the biggest has to do with the fact that mushrooms don’t produce their own food and don’t have pollen for fertilization. Mushrooms and other fungi (plural for fungus) are simpler than green plants, but their life cycle is no less amazing.


  1. Gil Camporazo

    In the Philippines, we culture the mushroom. Our Bureau of Plant Industry is producing or growing more mushrooms. I have seen one on how this thing is raised or culture. The agriculture technician put a bed of dried banana leaves and plant the mushroom created from a tissue. That is why it is called as tissue culture of propagation

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      They also culture mushrooms in the states. All mushrooms come from spores, but different mushrooms have different preferences as far as what they grow on. Rotted wood, straw and manure, all mixed together, is what most of the mushrooms here are grown in (the ones that are sold in the store, anyway.)

    2. Rex Trulove Post author

      I couldn’t understand it, but it looked like he had some really nice oyster mushrooms.

    3. Gil Camporazo

      Sorry, I was not able to tell you that it is an interview in our Filipino language. You know some Filipinos are good for they are using their ingenuity. They are noted for improvising things to make them useful.

    4. Rex Trulove Post author

      That is an admirable trait in anyone and I think there are people like that all over the world, the Philippines included. A good idea is a good idea, regardless of where it comes from. 😀

    5. Gil Camporazo

      You are absolutely right! I always overheard this statement :”something good. something wonderful”. I don’t know who has originated it.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      Absolutely, you could and can grow your own. The advice I’d have would be to see what the particular kind of mushroom needs, before you actually get a kit, though. Some mushrooms are much harder to grow than others.

  2. Andria Perry

    I have noticed 5 to 6 different types of mushrooms grown on my property, just two acres, but I cannot identify them so I cannot even think about eating them. I don`t want to be poisoned or go off on a mushroom drug trip 🙂

    I pinned this article and I stumbled it.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      I might be able to identify them if I saw pictures of them (no guarantees). Relatively few mushrooms are poisonous, but there are a huge number that are ‘inedible’, meaning that they can be eaten, but you can also eat cardboard and it would probably taste better. 🙂 The one in the picture above, though, should *NOT* be eaten. It is hallucinogenic and poisonous in large amounts.

  3. Priscilla King

    Morels are unmistakable…but very unlikely to pop up in August. Now I can’t wait to learn why they’re not a mushroom. (In the dialects of different local communities they have different names, and there’s also some disagreement about how to pronounce “morel,” so lots of people just call them “mushrooms” as in “the only mushrooms we’d ever consider eating.”)

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      You don’t really have to wait for the article. Mushrooms all have solid stems and caps. Morels have hollow stems and a hollow head rather than a cap. 🙂

      I’ve always pronounced the name “more-ell”

  4. Rex Trulove Post author

    Incidentally, a lot of people mistake false morels for morels. The two mushrooms don’t look alike, but they’ve apparently never seen a true morel. At least, that is the only reason I can think of. Morels look like a sponge on a stem and false morels look like brains, often without a stem.

  5. Kyla Matton Osborne

    I see you got not one, but two posts written about mushrooms! I’m learning a lot by reading your comments and posts. And now I’m really eager to find out of shaggy mane mushrooms grow locally here in the Kootenays.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      Considering where I’ve found them, I’d say that the chances are excellent. If you have fir and/or pine and get snow, the chances are great. I’ve also seen them around red and incense cedars.

    2. Kyla Matton Osborne

      We have a rowan in our yard, which I’m hoping will provide enough shade. But yes, we do have some conifers in the region and we get a little snow. Not so much in our little microclimate in town, but in the woods away from town.

    3. Rex Trulove Post author

      The woods away from town would be the place to look, then. They should start appearing in September or October, when the nights are crisp, and will probably be most numerous just off of dirt roads and trails.

    4. Kyla Matton Osborne

      Great! Thanks for the tips. I’ll see what else I can find out about the local mushrooms and we’ll get set to do some foraging, come the fall.

  6. Rex Trulove Post author

    Great! Best of luck and I hope you find oodles and bunches. If not, you should be able to find some really good places to look for them in the spring. 😀

  7. Pat Z Anthony

    Several of us in this area ‘grow’ our own mushrooms (as you know-they aren’t actually grown the way veggies are) and these are appreciated in many of our menus.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      It is a great idea, especially if people like mushrooms. I do. I won’t try growing morels, because they are so difficult, picky and take so long, but there are plenty of kinds that people can grow besides just button mushrooms.

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