Explore Outdoors: Mushrooms

By Holly Giles | Great Outdoors

turkey tail mushroom

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During the rainy season, we always find the most interesting mushrooms growing right in our backyard. Going on a mushroom hunt can be a fun project. Mushrooms belong to the kingdom classification, Fungi, which is separate from plants.

Earning its Keep

Fungi are an amazing part of the decomposition and recycling process in the earth. The most familiar is the mushroom, which can be found all over the world. There are thousands of species of mushrooms and each does their part in helping plants and the earth.

In Disguise

Common mushrooms you see growing in your yard actually have a whole underground world we think are roots. Actually, it is the body of the mushroom. The white branching “roots” are the real mushroom called Mycelium, and the part we see with funny shapes and colors above ground is the fruit of the mushroom. The fruit produces spores or seeds that produce more mushrooms.

Under the Cap

Hunting for mushrooms to examine can be like a fun game of hide and seek. Sometimes you have to really get down in the grass to see a mushroom. There are two ways a mushroom holds the spores under the cap of a mushroom.

  • Gills- many slits that hold spores.
  • Pores- release spores.

What is in a Name

Most fungi have a two-part Latin name along with a name that describes what it looks like. These are a few found in my backyard. The first photo is of Mycena Acicula or Oranged-Capped Bonnet. I found them down in the grass. They are hidden within the grass and not very tall.  I transplanted this one to a jar with a few rocks and soil to watch it grow. Oranged-Capped Bonnet has gills.

A Turkey Tail or Trametes Versicolor grows on trees. I found these on cut logs that are rotting and moist. This fungus begins as a white moldy looking blob on the bark and transforms as it grows into a layered mushroom that jets out from the bark. It can be quite beautiful in its shape and colors. A Turkey Tail is often dried and used in floral arrangements. Turkey Tails have pores.

Finding Your Own

When looking for mushrooms, choose a section of the ground or area to focus on. Mushroom hunting can be a fun addition to nature walks or boredom buster when you have been inside too long.

  • Use a ruler or pencil to move the leaves and grass around to spot any mushrooms growing.
  • To observe them with a microscope or with the eye, pull them up gently from the ground in order to preserve some mycelium.
  • Examine the underside of the mushroom and determine if it has gills or pores.
  • Create a simple terrarium to watch the mushroom grow for a week.

Mushrooms Made Famous

Paintings of mushrooms show up in children’s literature from a hundred years ago. Especially stories about talking animals like Peter Rabbit. Mushrooms have a mystical property about them that brings fairy tales and fairy homes to life. Painting, sculpting or drawing your own mushroom can add to the adventure of finding them.

Use Caution

Although we can buy and eat mushrooms from the grocery store, never eat a mushroom you pick. There are mushrooms that can make you sick and even be deadly. Learning about mushrooms further could be a great research project for middle to high school students. Mushrooms can also be used for medicinal use and have been used for that purpose for hundreds of years.

Fungi can be mysterious in their shapes, colors, sizes and where they grow. It is wonderful to be curious about them and study their properties. Enjoy your own mushroom hunt.

Book Selections

  • The Mushroom Book, Thomas Lessoe, Anna Del Conte and Gary Lincoff
  • Backyard Foraging, Ellen Zachos
  • Mushroom, Nicholas Money
  • The Nature Connection, Clare Walker Leslie
  • Nature Anatomy, Julia Rothman

Print out our mushroom activity sheet.




About the Author

Holly Giles is a wife, mother, and storyteller. As an author and Florida Master Naturalist, she writes about heritage homemaking skills, motherhood, and why Florida offers the best hidden natural gems to explore as a family.