What is Mycelium

The word mycelium literally means “more than one”. It is actually a plural form of the word Mycelia.  The word has New Latin and Greek origins and was first coined in text in the early 1800’s, and refers to the thread-like body of a fungus.  The main part of the fungus is the mycelia, which lives inside the substrate (wood, straw, grain, etc). The mushrooms that we eat are actually just a small visible part of the organism. In nature mushrooms "bloom" much like flowers do.  Like flowers, mushrooms bloom during certain times of the year when the conditions are just right.  To properly explain mycelium we have to get a little technical.

Mushrooms do not reproduce by seed or gather energy by photosynthesis like plants do.  They reproduce by means of spores.  These spores germinate to produce a mass of interwoven, single-cell wide structures known as hyphae.  Hyphae are sometimes also called Shiro.  Collectively, masses of hyphae are known as the mycelium. 

Fungus absorbs nutrients from its environment (substrate, log, etc) through its mycelium in a two-stage process.  First, the hyphae secrete enzymes into the decaying wood or other substrate. These enzymes break down biological polymers into smaller units such as monomers.   The mycelium then absorbs these monomers, using a combination of facilitated diffusion and active transport. 

Just like an apple on a tree the mushroom is a fruit of these reproducing fungi.  In nature the chances of mushroom spores germinating and then actually producing a mushroom are quite slim.  Everything has to be just right to actually produce a mushroom.  They don’t just grow everywhere at random.  This is why mushrooms are highly prized and hunted in the wild.  In our sterile laboratory however we can produce mushrooms that are free of contaminates.  Our mycologists cultivate a select species indoor where the mushroom mycelium can grow without the harsh environment nature sometimes provides.  

Cultures can be taken from spores or from the mushroom tissue itself.  In the process of germinating spores, many different strains are formed.  All strains however are not compatible with each other. In taking a culture from the tissue of a living mushroom, the cultivator preserves the exact genetic character of that specific mushroom.  This is also known as cloning.  When spores are used, a single strain must be singled out from the vast array of strains created.  In both cases, the end result is basically a network of cells.  This is the amazing mycelium, the actual organism that produces mushrooms.