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The Importance of Mushrooms

By Kelly Vowels

mushroomsHere at Bernheim Forest, we are currently compiling a list of all the Fungi or mushrooms found within the forest. Mushrooms are an important part of the ecosystem and over million species have been identified throughout the world. Mushrooms are different from other plants in that they are made up of chitin instead of the cellulose that is found in plants. Chitin is tough, but bendable, giving mushrooms the power to defend themselves from outside pathogens. Mushrooms are used as both medicine and food, and are currently being studied for other uses like cleaning up oil spills and breaking down PCBs (polychlorinated bipheyl, an organic environmental pollutant). Though a lot is known about how mushrooms can benefit humans, little attention is given to the importance of mushrooms to the forest.

Fungi, along with bacteria, are great recyclers, and will return much of the dead material like leaves and dead animals found in forests to soil. Without them we would be buried in meters of dead materials. Fungi also help in the growth of most plants by developing mycorrhizal associations, which are associations between fungi and plant roots to aid in increase access to water and minerals for the plants and allow the fungi to access the carbohydrates made by the plant. So when you are out in the woods, keep your eyes out for mushrooms, but remember, it’s important that the mushrooms are not collected so that others can also enjoy their presence.  We also want our mushrooms to continue to thrive into the future, and the only way they can do that is by leaving them where you find them.

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