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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Fungi in The Discovery Garden 2011
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Fungi in the Discovery Garden at Beltsville

The heavy rains of early September produced an amazing flush of mushrooms including in the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center's Student Discovery Garden.

Photo 242. Entry to the Discovery Garden located between Buildings 006 and 007 on BARC-West.


On 13 September 2011, Drew Minnis and Amy Rossman of the Systematic Mycology and Microbiology Laboratory held a session for the folks at BARC to learn about mushrooms and to examine those growing in or near the Discovery Garden.

 Photo 266. Dr. Drew Minnis, postdoc in SMML, explains the basics of mushroom identification to Dr. Dilip Laksman, FNPRU.    

 Mushrooms are a kind of fungi that belong to the basidiomycetes.(Most plant pathogens are ascomycetes.)The fruiting bodies, often as mushrooms, that you see represent only a small portion of the organism.Most of the fungus is underground as small threads (mycelium) that grow through substrates such as soil and can spread great distances-remember the Humongous Fungus?


Photo 271. The inimitable Dr. Amy Rossman (in the blue trunks) discussing the finer points of an Amanita.

Most mushrooms breakdown organic matter such as wood chips or are mycorrhizal, i.e. associated with the roots of plants in a mutually beneficially arrangement, and a few are plant parasites. Mycorrhizae are essential for healthy growth of most plants as they take up micronutrients, among other helpful contributions, that are transported into the roots of the plants in exchange for carbohydrates.

When conditions are right such as when it rains, the fungus reproduces by means of a fruiting body that may be in the form of a mushroom or a "nest" with a packet of spores or slime on a stick.


Fungi found in the mulch of the Discovery Garden:

Phallus rubicundus - a stinkhorn found in both the mature and

Phallus rubicundus - a stinkhorn found in both the mature and "egg" stage

Gymnopus luxurians - reddish brown mushroom with a tough stipe (not pictured)

"Coprinus" sp. and Parasola plicatilis (with black spores), Mycena sp.(with white spores) - small litter decomposing mushrooms

Cyathus striatus and Crucibulum laeve - "bird's nest" fungi with gray and whitish "eggs", respectively

Photo 246.

Outside the Discovery Garden mycorrhizal fungi associated with the oak tree:

Boletus sp. (one of the fleshy pore fungi)

Russula sp. (fragile with even, white gills)

Amanita sp. (with ring around the stipe and stipe also having bulbous base with universal veil remnants

Photo 278. Shannon Dominick, Collections Manager of the U.S. National Fungus Collections, SMML, listens to the crackle of a Russula mushroom as Tunesha Phipps, Biological Laboratory Technician, SMML looks on. Species of Russula have special cells called sphaerocysts that are inflated and cause the mushroom to make these sounds when broken. These sphaerocysts are the reason Russula species are so fragile.

In the lawns nearby:

Marasmium oreades - fairy ring mushroom

How to identify mushrooms:

One of the first steps in mushroom identification is to make a spore print to determine the color of the spores. You do this by simply setting the mushroom cap without the stipe on a piece of white paper.The spores that line the sides of the gills then fall onto the paper in an outline of the gills and show their color.

A number of good identification manuals exist for mushrooms as listed below, but none of them include all mushrooms. If interested in learning more about mushrooms including which ones are edible, you may attend the monthly meetings of the Mycological Association of Washington (MAW).

Miller, OK & HH Miller. 2006. North American Mushrooms. A Field Guide to Edible and Inedible Fungi. A Falcon Guide, Guilford, Connecticut.

Learn more about mushrooms from this video from Science Friday and Priscila Chaverri, mycologist at University of Maryland.

Photo 276. Spore print on a blue background. Spores have fallen off the gills of the mushroom onto a piece of paper revealing their color in an outline of the gills.


Last Modified: 8/13/2016
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