There are over 120,000 identified species of fungus. 50% of the mushrooms produced globally are considered functional or medicinal.
The two main components of any fungus are known as the hyphae and the mycelium. They give the plant its structure, help it gain nutrients, and allow it to produce mushrooms.
Knowing what the mycelium is and how it differs from the hyphae that make it up is an important part of understanding how a fungus grows.
What is mycelium and why should you learn about it? Read our guide to learn more about the parts that make up a mushroom and the bounty of health benefits they provide.
What Is Mycelium?
Most people know what a mushroom looks like but can’t identify the parts of the organisms that spawn them. Even if you can’t see it, it’s helpful to know what mycelium is.
It’s formed from interwoven hyphae, the threadlike filaments that make up a mushroom mycelium.
A mycelium network can be microscopically small or stretch for several acres. It spreads throughout the surrounding soil looking for nutrients from decaying materials or living plants.
A mushroom is the aboveground fruiting body of a fungus. Mycelia can produce spores, leading to the production of mushrooms.
As long as a mycelium has a strong underlying structure of hyphae and enough nutrients, it can grow for a long period of time. Their longevity is high, and some fungal mycelium can live to be thousands of years old. Breaks in the structure, natural disaster, and other calamities are their main weaknesses.
How Is Mycelium Different From Its Hyphae?
A mycelium network is made of interwoven hyphae. Several distinctions set these two components apart.
The hyphae make up the filamentous part of a mushroom. The mycelium makes up the vegetative part where mushrooms sprout from.
The tips of the hyphae are the main growth part of the fungus, but only the mycelium can produce spores that grow into mushrooms.
Hyphae are present in things like yeast. The mycelium isn’t because it’s made up of individual cells.
Knowing the difference between mycelium and its hyphae is a critical part of understanding what mycelium is.
Types of Hyphae and Mycelium
There are so many species of fungus that it can be difficult to tell them apart. Some fungal mycelium look alike, and some are too small to even see.
Luckily for the casual observer, scientists developed a system to help classify fungal mycelium. If you know a few characteristics about the fungus you’re looking at, you can tell what type or perhaps even what species it is.
Part of knowing what a mycelium is involves knowing the different types and the kinds of hyphae that can make it up. One way to classify a fungal mycelium is to look at how it gets energy.
A mycorrhizae mycelium creates a symbiotic relationship with a living plant. Both organisms benefit and share nutrients.
A saprophytic mycelium absorbs dead plant matter. This keeps the Earth clean and cycles nutrients back into the soil.
Some types of mycelium are parasitic. They feed off a living host without providing any nutrients in return. You can also classify a mycelium by its shape and the type of hyphae that make it up.
Rhizomorphs are bundles of hyphae. They vary greatly in structure depending on the specific species of fungal mycelium you’re dealing with. Most have mycelium networks large enough to transport water and nutrients to encourage growth.
A sclerotium is a compact mass of collected hyphae. This common type of mycelium is round and varies in size. It’s protected by a dark outer skin that allows it to withstand less than favorable weather conditions.
When a mycelium grows on the ground, it usually spreads out in a circle. These are known as fairy rings. They can produce several small mushrooms.
Benefits of Mushrooms
Knowing the parts of a fungus helps, but it’s also important to know why these plants matter and why you should know what the mycelium is. They provide health benefits and are essential in helping nature maintain balance.
Fungal mycelium plays an important role in the ecosystem. Without it, food chains would collapse and the world would be littered with decaying bodies.
Fungal mycelium serves as a natural decomposer that feeds on decaying material. It helps cycle nutrients for other plants.
Fungi work symbiotically with several plant species. 92% of plant families engage in a cooperative relationship with a fungus known as mycorrhiza.
Fungi are also a critical food source for several species, including humans.
Adding mushrooms to your diet has several health benefits. They contain essential vitamins including B, C, and D. They also provide important minerals like potassium and selenium.
Mushrooms can also fight disease. They help decrease inflammation and prevent heart disease.
Studies even prove that, due to their high levels of beta-glucan, increased intake of mushrooms lessens your risk of breast cancer.
Without a strong mycelium made up of a wide-spreading hyphae network, we’d never get to enjoy the numerous benefits of mushrooms. They require just the right conditions to germinate which, combined with the benefits they provide, makes them valuable and highly sought-after.
Improve the health of your eyes, brain, heart, and immune system by enjoying this delicious wonder-food. Check here for more on the benefits of mushrooms.
Where to Get Mushrooms
Mushrooms are a popular food source for many people and the cornerstone of many country’s cuisines.
Anyone who loves them should understand how they grow and what components make them up. They should know the answer to the question “what is mycelium?” and be able to describe the hyphae that make it up.
Everyone can benefit from the health benefits that fungal mycelium provides. Add them to your diet to increase your general health and stave off disease.
There are so many different species of mushrooms it can be hard to choose the best one or decide where to get it. We offer a range of kits allowing you to grow these plants from home.