Major Groups > Gilled Mushrooms


The Gilled Mushrooms  

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!

The gilled mushrooms do not represent a coherent group, taxonomically speaking. 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, even thouigh they have gills—but the Agaricales does include the bird's nest fungi and many puffballs, which do not have gills. Clearly, gills represent what biologists call "convergent evolution" (further discussion can be found on the page for Panus conchatus).

But while the presence of gills doesn't necessarily indicate that mushrooms are more closely related, it is a useful way to separate them for identification purposes—as is the color of a mushroom's spore print, even though spore print color, like the presence of gills, does not necessarily group related mushrooms together. I have followed tradition with this site's mushroom keys, relying heavily on spore print color—but please keep in mind that an identification key like the one below may help you identify mushrooms, but it may not reflect their natural groupings or evolution. For a sense of how mushrooms are phylogenetically related, you will need to turn to the page on mushroom taxonomy, which includes a large table representing the current (but constantly changing) taxonomic relationships among 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.Found on the deadwood of hardwoods from the Great Plains eastward, often in areas subject to spring flooding; cap pinkish orange, with a reticulate pattern of ridges; flesh rubbery; stem often off-center; spore print whitish in a thin print, but pinkish to yellow in a thick print.

2.Not completely as above.

3.Spore print pink, Caucasian "flesh-colored," or salmon (note: what mycologists call a "pink" spore print might sometimes be better described as "pinkish brown"; see example).

3.Spore print otherwise colored.

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

4.Not completely as above.

5.Spore print orange.

5.Spore print not orange.

6.Growing on the ground; flesh somewhat crumbly.

6.Growing on wood; flesh not crumbly.

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

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

Cite this page as:

Kuo, M. (2021, March). The gilled mushrooms. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site:

© MushroomExpert.Com