Major Groups > Gilled Mushrooms


The Gilled Mushrooms ("Agaricales")  

[ Basidiomycetes . . . ]

by Michael Kuo

Gills (called "lamellae" in Mycologese) are the many platelike or bladelike structures attached to the underside of the cap in some mushrooms, representing an ingenious reproductive strategy. Like all mushrooms, gilled mushrooms are spore factories, created for the sole purpose of manufacturing microscopic spores to be carried away by air currents and, with any luck, to land in a suitable location to germinate and start a new organism. The odds of any individual spore having this kind of luck, however, are so low that the mushroom produces millions of spores to compensate. The gills are assembly lines, and they dramatically increase the number of spores the mushroom can produce. Both sides of each gill are covered with microscopic spore-producing machinery. Imagine the difference in the number of spores produced if the underside of the cap were simply a single, flat production surface; far fewer machines could operate!


Gills of Agaricus bisporus

The gilled mushrooms do not represent a coherent group, taxonomically speaking. Recent DNA research has shown that the simple fact that a mushroom has gills does not necessarily relate it to other mushrooms with gills (for more on this topic, see What, If Anything, Is a Gilled Mushroom?). Thus the "Agaricales," the taxonomic order used for centuries to hold mushrooms with gills, turns out not to include species of Russula and Lactarius, for example, but does include the Bird's Nest Fungi and many Puffballs. Who knew?

But you can't exactly test the DNA of every mushroom you want to identify, and identification keys based on actual, natural relationships would be virtually useless to anyone without access to the technology of molecular biology. So, while the color of a mushroom's spore print may not be at all significant in terms of indicating which mushrooms it is naturally related to (see the Lepiotoid Clade for an example of a natural grouping that includes mushrooms with white, brown, and black spore prints), it is very important if you want to identify the mushroom.

Identification and taxonomy, it appears, will have to be separated. An identification key like the one below will help you identify mushrooms, but it will not reflect their natural groupings or evolution. For a sense of how mushrooms are genetically related, you will need to turn to the page on Taxonomy, which includes a large table representing the current taxonomic relationships among all of the mushroom-like fungi.

Key to Gilled Mushrooms  

1.Mushroom small (cap 1-5 cm); cap and stem brown; growing on the ground; without a partial veil or universal veil; odor strong, reminiscent of cucumbers or fish; spore print white, pinkish, dirty yellowish, pale brownish, or a mixture of these colors; cap, stem, and gills covered with prominent cystidia.

1.Not completely as above.

2.Spore print pink, flesh-colored, or salmon.

2.Spore print otherwise colored.

3.Gills very thick, waxy, distantly spaced, yellow, running down the stem; mushroom appearing from above much like a bolete; spore print yellowish to brownish.

3.Not completely as above.

4.Spore print orange.

4.Spore print not orange.

5.Growing on the ground; flesh somewhat crumbly.

5.Growing on wood; flesh not crumbly.

6.Spore print white, creamy, buff, yellow, lilac, or pale greenish.

6.Spore print darker than above (brown, cinnamon, rusty, purplish brown, dark gray, black, etc.).

Cite this page as:

Kuo, M. (2007, March). The gilled mushrooms ("Agaricales"). Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site:

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