What are the Four Categories of Mushrooms?

What is a Mushroom?

A mushroom is a fruiting body of a kind of fungus. A fungus is a group of spore-producing organisms including mold, yeasts mushrooms, and toadstools.

There are over 14,000 species of mushrooms among which there are only 14,000 known species. Mushrooms can be poisonous, medicinal or edible. A number of species can be cultivated (made in a lab).

Mushrooms are categorized based on how they find their food source. Unlike plants, mushrooms do not use sunlight to make energy for themselves. Rather, they get their energy from other organisms.

morel mushroom on hill

Saprotrophic Mushrooms

Saprotrophic mushrooms are mushrooms that thrive on decay. These types of mushrooms are what scientists call decomposers. A decomposer is an organism that breaks down dead tissue into small molecules in which they absorb.

The decomposer releases acids and enzymes to aid in this process. Decomposers have a lot of importance in the food chain as they return vital nutrients to the soil.

Some examples in which these mushrooms thrive would be dead wood, plants or animals. Many mushrooms in this category are gourmet and medicinal.

A popular type of saprotrophic mushroom is a Morel (Morchella). Morels are edible and are considered a prized delicacy.

Every spring, mushroom hunters head into the woods in hopes of finding these elusive fungi. Morels require specific conditions to grow in and are not easily cultivated. This is why morel hunting has turned into such a sport!

Morel mushrooms are intense and earthy. They have a distinctive cap that resembles a honeycomb. These mushrooms are popular in cream sauces and sauté.

Another well-known mushroom that is classified as a saprotrophic fungi is the Shiitake (Lentinula edodes). The Shiitake mushroom is a very versatile, savory, and satisfying fungi! It can be easily cultivated and used for both medicinal and culinary uses.

These mushrooms grow in the Far East (Japan, China, and Korea). They fruit from spring to late summer or even early fall. Shiitake mushrooms contain high amounts of vitamin D, potassium, iron, and magnesium. It is also an antioxidant that is great for the human body.

There are many benefits to including Shiitake mushrooms into your diet such as cancer prevention and treatment, anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-infection, stimulation of immune system, lower cholesterol, and reduce blood pressure.

The White Button Mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) is also a common Saprotrophic mushroom that is found in grocery stores all over the world! While this fungi is quite ordinary looking, there is more than meets the eye.

This is a very mild and versatile mushroom that mixes well with other mushrooms and has a classic flavor good on pizza, pasta and salad.

These mushrooms are inexpensive, easy to find, have a great taste and are easy to cook with! The White Button Mushroom contains a high amount of vitamin D which is great for overall health.

Mycorrhizal Mushrooms

Mycorrhizal mushrooms are mushrooms that have formed a symbiotic (cooperative) relationship with trees and/or plants. The mycelia of the fungi enter a beneficial union with the roots of either a tree or plant by either wrapping or weaving around their roots.

The fungi bring additional moisture, phosphorus, and other nutrients to their host. This helps the host plant grow bigger, faster, and stronger than their counterparts. In return, the mushroom gains access to sugar (glucose).

Many farmers and gardeners will incorporate mycorrhizal fungi into their crops. 95% of plant species form a partnership with fungi. Mycorrhizal fungi are difficult to cultivate and are usually only found in nature. Most of these mushrooms are edible, as listed below.

An example of a well-known mycorrhizal mushroom is a Truffle (Tuber melanosporum). Truffles are a rare delight and not an opportunity to be missed. While they are typically considered rather expensive, there are ways to get your fix through different avenues such as oil.

This fungus grows in the shadow of oak trees as it forms its symbiotic relationship. There are over seven different truffle species found all over the world. Truffles have a very earthy taste and don’t need a lot of extra salt and pepper to awaken your taste buds. 

Another type of mushroom in this category is a fungi called Porcini (Boletus edulis). These mushrooms are quite delicious and well known in Italian cuisine. They inhibit a strong nutty flavor. This variety is not easily cultivated so it may be hard to find but more expensive to purchase depending on the area you live in.

These mushrooms can grow to attain a cap that is nearly 12 inches in diameter. The color is often brown or red with a sticky texture. They form their relationship with pine, chestnut, hemlock, and spruce trees. They fruit in the summer to the fall.

Parasitic Mushrooms

Parasitic mushrooms feed on the weak. The relationship that the mushroom develops with its host is one-sided. The mushroom will infect and eventually kill its host.

Most parasites enter the host through a natural opening of a plant. These parasites cause great damage annually throughout the world, destroying many crops and other sources of food.

Honey Fungus (Armillaria) is an example of a fungus that falls into this fascinating category. These mushrooms in your garden may be a cause for concern but are a delicious addition to the dinner table.

They have a nutty and sweet flavor with a chewy texture. Most species produce medium-sized mushrooms that are typically found growing on wood.

Their caps range from different shades of brown to yellow. Honey mushrooms will flower year-round in warmer ecosystems.

Caterpillar Mushroom (Cordyceps sinensis) is another type of parasitic fungi. This medicinal mushroom increases energy, stimulates the immune system, and acts as an overall refresher to the body.

This fungus is popular for its unique way of reproducing. It develops inside insect larvae, killing and mummifying the remains before popping out of the ground as a fruiting body.

Species of this mushroom can be found from the Tibetan Plateau to the humid, tropical forests of Asia.

Endophytic Fungus

Endophytic fungi are unique and often create a mysterious type of symbiosis. They are studied for their behavior. Endophytic fungi will invade their host’s tissue, but rather than attacking they help nourish their host. The fungi help increase the nutrient absorption and resistance to pathogens.

Endophytic fungi produce minor metabolites that keep herbivores from eating the plant by making it poisonous or taste bad. They are found in all plant species including deciduous trees, shrubs, marine algae, mosses, and lichens.

The relationships that these fungi create with their host, help lead the way as sources for new drugs and therapies such as penicillin isolated from the fungus Penicillium rubens and the anti-cancer drug Taxol which was developed from Taxus brevifolia the Pacific yew tree. There is still much unknown about this specific type of fungi.


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Cameron, Steffani. “What Are Truffles and Why Are They So Expensive?” Wide Open Eats, 28 Apr. 2020, www.wideopeneats.com/so-what-are-truffles-and-why-are-they-so-popular/.

Different Types of Mushrooms and Their Uses.” Different Types of Mushrooms and Their Uses, www.mushroom-appreciation.com/types-of-mushrooms

Editors, BD. “Endophytic Fungi.” Biology Dictionary, 24 Jan. 2018, biologydictionary.net/endophytic-fungi.

Kummer, Paul. “Armillaria Mellea. – Honey Fungus.” Armillaria Mellea, Honey Fungus, www.first-nature.com/fungi/armillaria-mellea.php.

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