It goes like this: fungus grows in a colony. A colony (the parts you don't see, usually) sends out cells that figure out what's for dinner. The fungus produces the appropriate enzymes and sweats these compounds into their general area. Complicated carbohydrates (wood, leaf-litter, manure, coffee grounds, old clothes) get broken into smaller components and then yum-yum-yum, the non-plant absorbs basic building blocks of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and so forth, transforming material into delicious meals for themselves.
Most of this happens under the surface of stuff. When a log gets punky and papery, for instance, it's probably because fungi has colonized and mostly digested the good stuff from it.
The part of the fungi that we do see? The odd grey growths on the sides of dead trees, the circles of orange toadstools, the package of vaguely phallic objects in the produce section of a grocery store? These caps and stems are the final stage of growth for some fungi.
When fungi produce mushrooms, it's called "fruiting."
Varieties are blue or tan or yellow, tiiineensie or largo, spiky or smooth. Something edible for everyone:
Shiitake, oyster mushrooms, portobellos, truffles, morels, hen-of-the-woods, maitake, lion's mane, nameko, blewit, wood-ear, enoki, blacktop, shaggy mane, tiger sawgill, scaly lentinus, hairy panus, turkey tail, king stropharia, parasol, elm oyster, the choices are legion.
Me, I am not a fan. As my mother said of meatloaf: "Everyone has her own recipe, but it all tastes the same." Still, other people enjoy mushrooms. They buy them and everything.
And as it happens, mushrooms might be another one of the crops that might thrive without a constant gardener looking after it. So that's part of our new neural pathway this spring at the Would-Be Farm: mushroom cultivation. I look forward to reporting details when we've accomplished something.