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Twenty Minutes with a Mushroom

Originally appears in the Fall 2014 issue

AN OLD JOKE goes like this: (Employee 1) “They treat us like mushrooms around here!”  (Employee 2)  “How is that?” (Employee 1)  “Because they keep us in the dark and we’re always getting stepped on!”  Fungi, however, can take the abuse.  This sturdy kingdom requires no sunlight, acquires its own food, and has been inhabiting the Earth’s nooks and crannies for millennia.  For something that demands so little, fungi’s contribution to the wellbeing of the earth is astounding.  Without these all-important decomposers, organic matter from leaf litter to last night’s chicken dinner would have piled up to the sky thousands of years ago.  The amount of nutrients fungi recycle into the soil can’t be overlooked.  Carbon and other important nutrients are broken down from organic matter and returned into the soil as fungi digest them.  Fungi are also responsible for helping plant roots obtain nutrients; up to 95% of land plants rely on these symbiotic relationships.

Not only is the important role fungi play in the ecosystem often underappreciated; the astounding diversity, adaptations, and unique characteristics of the fungi kingdom are also generally overlooked.  Studying fungi as an educational topic is fun, interesting, and presents many opportunities for hands-on learning.  As an added bonus, fungi don’t move when you’re studying them. Three ideas are presented below to get you started on bringing fungus in to your classroom.

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Jessica Pierson is a Certified Interpretive Guide Trainer and a naturalist who lives in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois.  She is a Horticulture Instructor at Lake Land College.  Check out her 13 minute video entitled “How to Dissect a Mushroom” which can be found at: