Fungi are classified separately from plants and form their own kingdom. Mushrooms and toadstools, and belong to the same group as moulds. Fungi are composed entirely of minute underground threads called hyphae, and theses form a dense network called mycelium.
A mushroom is the only reproductive part of the fungi and exists solely to produce and disperse its spores. They are in fact only the fruiting bodies of the fungi, the equivalent of a single flower from a plant.
The term mushroom can be used to referred to cultivated varieties we buy in shops or any fungus with a mushroom shaped fruiting body. Traditionally we refer to toadstools as anything that is poisonous, but as several species of mushroom are also poisonous the terms today have lost their original meanings.
There is no description or rule to describe any particular difference between mushrooms and toadstools. We often associate mushrooms as having gills and edible, and toadstools as being the non edible alternative.
It takes experience and knowledge to distinguish between the two other in order to determine which are poisonous and which are edible.
A toadstool is the fruiting body of a fungus. There has never been a precise definition as to what makes a fruiting body a toadstool, and there is no clear distinction between toadstools and mushrooms.
The ‘classic’ image of a toadstool is that of a fruiting body with a stalk and a cap, although this term is also often applied to other types of fungal fruiting bodies such as brackets and puffballs. The term toadstool has often been applied to poisonous or inedible fruiting bodies, but this is not a universally-accepted definition. The size and colour of a toadstool will vary greatly according to the species of fungus producing the fruiting body.
The term mushroom is most often applied to those fungi that have a stem, a cap, and gills or pores on the underside of the cap.
Mushroom describes a variety of gilled fungi, with or without stems, and the term is used even more generally to describe both the fleshy fruiting bodies of some Ascomycota and the fruiting bodies of some Basidiomycota. The cultivated white button mushroom which we are most familiar is Agaricus bisporus.
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