If you’ve been out in Cape Elizabeth’s woods recently, you may have noticed some red-, white-, brown- and even black-capped mushrooms popping up through the leaves. There are many different species of mushrooms out there and all serve an important role in forest ecosystems.
Mushrooms fall into the fungi kingdom, and resemble something closer to an animal than a plant. In fact, most mushrooms build their cell walls out of chitin, the same material found in the hard, outer shells of insects. Mushrooms do not convert sunlight into food as plants do; rather they obtain nutrients by absorbing and metabolizing non-living organic matter. As a result, mushrooms play the essential role of decomposers, helping to break down dead plants and animals, turning them into nutrient-rich soil so that new plants can grow.
Autumn is the best time to spot mushrooms and other types of fungi because the moist conditions make this season the ideal time for mushrooms to reproduce. Next time you’re in the woods, keep an eye out for these amazing decomposers! (But please DO NOT eat any mushroom unless you are absolutely certain of its identity and do not remove mushrooms from our properties!)