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There is no standard definition for a toadstool, and no clear distinction between toadstools and mushrooms. Both terms refer to the fruiting bodies produced by fungi. Most of these fungi are harmless or even beneficial to plants, but there are a few that can cause disease problems, such as honey fungus and the fairy ring fungi.
Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria). Credit: RHS/Herbarium.
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.
You may see the following:
The appearance of toadstools in a garden should not usually be a cause for concern. You should, however, familiarise yourself with the fruiting bodies of the few species such as Armillaria and Marasmius that can cause problems, as well as the symptoms of the respective diseases that they cause.
The vast majority of fungal species producing toadstools in gardens are likely to be of two types:
Saprophytes: This group of organisms feeds on dead plant and animal remains and they are usually beneficial to plant growth, as they release minerals and nutrients back into the soil and help form its organic humus content. One saprophytic species found in gardens that may cause offense is the stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus). The fruiting bodies have a thick white stalk and dark head, and the extremely strong odour of decay they produce is often the first indication of their presence.
Mycorrhizae: a term that translates as ‘fungus root’. These fungi form an intimate association with the roots of plants, including many trees and shrubs.This is a beneficial association known as a symbiosis; the fungus derives nutrients from the plant, but the fungal hyphae also grow out from the roots into the soil, enabling the plant to obtain water and nutrients from a much greater area than it could with just its own roots. A well-known example of a mycorrhizal fungus is the poisonous fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) with its bright red cap, spotted with white scales. This is associated with birch and some conifers.
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