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Toadstools

One big, happy fungi family

     As summer ends, toadstools seem to appear from nowhere.
     Technically speaking, a toadstool is a mushroom is a fungus — the same. They are all the fleshy, fruiting bodies growing above ground with a stem, a cap and pores or gills. While it may seem they pop up overnight after a rain, they have been growing for days or weeks. Beneath ground, their inner-connecting root systems can tangle over great distances. (In Oregon, a giant mushroom infiltrates 2,200 underground acres.) Rain gives them the growth spurt to pop above the grass.
     Mushrooms (and toadstools) can look like balls, coral, cups, saucers, shelves on a tree trunk or stump, sponges, icicles and even cauliflower. This diversity of design, according to www.americanmushrooms.com, helps ensure their successful reproduction.
     Toadstools seem to be the name we non-mycologists give to mushrooms we wouldn’t think of eating. 
     Only about 250 of some 10,000 species of mushrooms in North America are edible. Many others can make you sick or worse. Mushroom or toadstool, don’t eat it unless you are 100 percent sure of its identity.
     Mushroom or toadstool, like all species of fungi they carry out important work decomposing dead organic matter. Many are uniquely adapted to decompose very specific materials, such as lignin in wood. Without them, the nutrients in the dead wood could not return to the soil.
     The complex role that fungi play in plant and forest ecology, as well as their medicinal properties, is, like their roots, a big subject we’re just untangling.