From the toadstools of fairytales to the exotic shiitake of Japan, mushrooms have held a place in our imaginations — and on our dinner plates — for centuries. In this series of photographs, however, you'll see a more unfamiliar side of fungi — close-ups of the fragile and tender gills that are usually tucked away beneath the cap.
Our first mushroom has long been a favorite with children's book illustrators. But here, instead of the familiar red and white spotted cap of the Fly Agaric mushroom, are the more subdued, but just as lovely, colors and textures of the gills on its underside.
The plump fleshiness of this mushroom's stalk contrasts with its delicate coral-colored gills or 'lamellae’. These fragile folds are not just beautiful; they disperse the mushroom's reproductive spores — without which we wouldn't have any more mushrooms!
Looking at this mushroom, you almost expect it to burst into flames! The striking ember colors of this photograph make it look less like something you'd eat, and maybe more like something you'd cook on...
Out of the fire and into the sun! This bright yellow Amanita Crocea mushroom looks almost too gaudy to be natural, and definitely isn't something you'd miss if you saw it on the forest floor. The distinctive color also gives this mushroom its alternative name: the Saffron Ringless Amanita.
At first glance, you might mistake this as a close-up photograph of a book. You probably won't be able to read much on those creamy white pages, though, unless maybe you're a mushroom biologist, or a mycophagist — that is, someone who identifies and harvests mushrooms for eating. A pretty tasty hobby!
Another look at the underside of a Fly Agaric mushroom. The bright light coming through the gills almost has the appearance of flames... which you may well be seeing if you're unlucky enough to eat one. Fly Agaric, along with certain other species of mushrooms, contain psychoactive compounds which can be used as a hallucinogenic.
When people refer to something as "mushroom-colored", clearly they don't mean these mushrooms! This close-up photograph, which was taken in the early morning sun, certainly brings out the golden colors and delicate construction of this bright fungus.
If it were upside down, the gills on this mushroom could be mistaken for the folds of a swirling satin ball gown. Mushroom gills come in many different varieties, whether papery thin or thick like these, which is why they are so important when it comes to classifying different species.
Here we have a mushroom's gills in extreme close-up. Note the subtle color, and the way they delicately curve and fold. As well as the thickness of the gills, the color and shape of mushrooms help to give biologists clues as to what species they're looking at.
This bony looking ridge could belong to a dinosaur, or even be the tail of a fish! But of course, you'll know by now it's another elegant set of mushroom gills, this time with a delicate pink hue.
The wood blewit, or ‘blue stalk mushroom’, is actually more of a lilac color than blue. Although it looks a little unappetizing, this mushroom is considered very good eating — you just have to make sure they're cooked first. Raw wood blewits can lead to a nasty case of indigestion, and even when cooked they can cause an allergic reaction. Take care if one ever shows up on your plate!
This exquisite mushroom stands like a transparent silk parasol against the morning sky. Filmy mushrooms like this can often materialize overnight, only to be gone again the following day. Their fleeting lifespans only enhance their fragile beauty, and make them all the more precious.
If you look carefully at the end of this mushroom's gills, you can just make out the fine grains of a powder-like substance. These tiny grains are the mushroom's spores, which fall off the gills. They can even be as colorful as the gills themselves, ranging from white, yellow, brown and pink to black or even purple!
Another lovely fin-like example of mushroom gills, this time with a little of the smooth outer covering of the cap visible at the top. Telling one mushroom from another can be tricky for amateurs, and since many are poisonous, it's safest not to eat any found in the wild unless you're certain they belong to an edible species.
This little mushroom looks like a well-designed garden light! Here, we can clearly see that the gills are attached to the top of the stalk, but like the color and thickness, their positioning is variable from species to species.
We wonder if the satellite dish-shaped mushroom shown here is picking up any signals from the night sky! This particular cap shape is called ‘depressed’, and unlike most of the other mushrooms we've looked at so far, the gills on this one are of varying lengths. The color combination of the white and yellow is particularly striking, almost making it look like a daisy.
Here's a mushroom with another interestingly shaped cap. The depression in this one is so deep it’s almost inside out, with the gills prominently displayed. This type of cap has a specific name too, but it's a bit more of a mouthful than ‘depressed’: it's actually called ‘infundibuliform’!
Although these two seem to have a pinky glow, the Porcelain mushroom is also known as the Poached Egg mushroom because of its white translucent color. This variety is edible... if you're willing to get past its rather unpleasant, slimy coating!
With their different colors, shapes and sizes, all of these mushrooms are beautiful in their own way — and play important parts in the ecologies in which they live. Having seen these gorgeous photographs of their gills, perhaps next time you see a mushroom you'll be tempted to look underneath for a different view?