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  • Writer's pictureAmy Wung Tsao

Funky Fungi Science and Cool Mushroom Facts!

Updated: Jan 21

A Note from Amy

Since fall harvests are on my mind, I wanted a food-adjacent STEM topic for November.


So, what are your thoughts on pizza toppings? I know pineapple is a super controversial topping, though I don’t have strong feelings about it.  If given the option though, I’ll always take mushrooms on my pizza! Love a good mushroom. 


But I’m really not a mushroom foraging kind of gal. Mushrooms grow in places with worms and bugs and spiders, and you already know my feelings about spiders.  Nonetheless, there’s a lot to love and learn about fungi from the comfort of my own home, and I’m happy to share them with you!


 

Fun with Fungi and Mushroom Science!


“Fungi constitute the most poorly understood

and underappreciated kingdom of life on Earth.”

~ writer Michael Pollan


“1. All fungi are edible.

2. Some fungi are edible only once.”

~ from Discworld Almanac by Terry Pratchett



Close up photo of a fly agaric mushroom in the green grass. The mushroom has a white stem and a red cap with white flecks just like a toadstool mushroom from a cartoon.
Credit: Jimi Malmberg on UnSplash

Fungi! I'm talking about the science of mushrooms and mold! Some are colorful, some are cute, and some are downright weird. Some of them are in your kitchen right now - like yeast! And some you should never, ever eat. 


This month I've got STEM books, videos, and activities all about what makes fungi special and different from both plants and animals, and what they're good for. (So many things!) 


(Just a reminder - I am never paid to mention any of these resources; there are no affiliate links.)


 

Videos


From SciShow Kids


Mushrooms are a kind of fungus. And fungi aren’t an animal or a plant - they’re their own category of living thing! Plants get food from the sun, but fungi get their food from other living things, like animals do.  But they can't move like animals, so they grow on top of their food. Awesome and weird!



from National Geographic 


So what is fungi good for? Apparently medicine, bricks, water filters, and more!



Spoiler alert, the answer is that it’s really hard to tell. But along the way, this video features some pretty amazing looking mushrooms, including pictures of “fairy rings” and puffballs! 


 

Books


Cover illustration of different types of mushrooms at night, surrounded by wild flowers, a mouse, insects and a snail.

By Laura K. Zimmermann, illustrated by Jamie Green


Through gorgeous illustrations, this lyrical book is all about the weird and wonderful things that mushrooms can do. Like how clouds can form around mushroom spores in the air, and those clouds rain the spores back down to grow new mushrooms.




Cover illustration of a dark skinned girl leaning away in shock from a mushroom and lichen that are as big as her, with big cartoon eyes and smiles. The girl has wide yellow glasses, long curly black hair blown back, a red t-shirt, white shorts, and black tennis shoes. The title Fungus is Among Us is written in B-horror movie style script.

By Joy Keller, illustrated by Erica Salcedo


This book is filled with fun fungi facts about fairy circles, dandruff, and compost. It also ends with an interview of a real mycologist - a mushroom scientist! 




Cover illustration of a several different types of mushrooms with cartoons eyes looking back at the reader.

By Elise Gravel


This one’s really only for the true mushroom fans who want to know all the details about different types of mushrooms. The True Mushroom Fan will love this graphic novel walk to find puffballs, stinkhorn mushrooms, and more!


 

Activities




Two small jars, one with clear water and a deflated red balloon covering the jar mouth, and one with bubbling yeast and an inflated yellow balloon covering the jar mouth. Title “How Yeast Works —--> kid science” and the logo Playdough to Plato in the bottom corner.

Experiment with Yeast! from Playdough to Plato

Yeast is a fungi too! And its ability to create carbon dioxide gas is how we get bread to rise in the oven. If you have some yeast and balloons on hand, this is a pretty quick  and satisfying science experiment!




Photo of white paper with dark marks that look like a shadow of a mushroom’s gills.

from Chicago Botanic Garden


This print was actually made from the spores falling out of a mushroom’s gills. Just snip the stem off of a mushroom, and leave it on a piece of paper overnight!


Full disclosure, I haven’t tried this myself because I prefer not to think about the spores inside my yummy mushrooms. But it does look pretty cool! Let me know if you try it out!


 

We’ve covered animal traits, spiders, and fungi. That’s enough life sciences for now. Next month, we take a turn into computer coding! 



Till then, have fun lighting sparks of curiosity!

Amy Wung Tsao


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