|The Story Book of Science|
|by Jean Henri Fabre|
|The wonders of plant and animal life told with rare literary charm by Uncle Paul in conversations with three children. Besides such stories as the ants' subterranean city, the spider's suspension bridge, and the caterpillars' processing, he unlocks the mystery behind thunder and lightning, clouds and rain, the year and its seasons, and volcanoes and earthquakes. Ages 9-12 |
USHROOM seeds, or spores, form on these gills, these
points, and on the walls of the tubes of which these holes
are the orifices. I recommend to Jules the following
experiment. We will take some mushrooms whose caps are not
yet thoroughly spread. We will place them this evening on a
sheet of white paper. During the night the blossoming will
be finished and the ripe seeds will fall from the gills of
the agarics and the tubes of the boleti. To-morrow morning
we shall find on the paper an impalpable dust, red, rose,
brown, according to the kind of mushroom.
"This dust is nothing but a mass of seeds, of spores, so
fine that they cannot be seen separately without a
microscope, so numerous they cannot be counted. There are
millions and millions of them."
"A microscope," interrupted Emile. "Is that the instrument
with which you sometimes look at things so small that the
naked eye can scarcely see them?"
"Yes. A microscope enlarges the objects seen through it, and
shows them to us in all their details
 of structure, although
they would be hidden from the unaided eye by their
"Will you show us through the microscope the mushroom spores
when I have collected them on a sheet of paper?" asked
"I will show them to you. One spore is enough, under
favorable conditions of heat and moisture, to germinate and
develop into white filaments or mycelium from which will
spring at the right time numerous mushrooms. How many
mushrooms would be produced if all the spores that fall by
myriads and myriads from the gills of a single agaric were
to germinate? Here again we have the story of the cod, the
louse, all the feeble creatures, in short, that reproduce
their kind in such immense numbers."
"To have mushrooms, then, as many as we want, it is only
necessary to sow the spores?" Jules again inquired.
"In that you are mistaken, my dear child. Up to this time
mushroom culture has been impossible, because the care
required by their excessively delicate seeds is not
understood by us, or may even be beyond our power. Only one
edible mushroom is cultivated, and even in growing this we
use not the spores, but the mycelium.
"They call it the hot-bed mushroom. It is an agaric, satiny
white above and pale rose beneath. In the old stone quarries
near Paris they make beds
 of horse manure and light earth.
In these beds they put pieces of mycelium known to
horticulturists under the name of mushroom-spawn. This spawn
ramifies, pushes out numerous filaments, and from these
finally spring the mushrooms."
"Good to eat?"
"Excellent. Among the mushrooms we gathered are those that I
am going to acquaint you with.
"Look at this first of all. It is an agaric. The upper
surface of the cap is a beautiful orange-red; the gills
underneath are yellow. The stalk rises from the bottom of a
sort of white bag with torn edges. This bag, called
at first enveloped the whole mushroom. In growing and
pushing above ground, the cap broke it. This kind, they say,
is the best of all, the most appreciated. It is called the
"This other agaric, likewise orange-red, and also provided
with a bag or volva at the base of the stalk, is called the
false orange-agaric. Would you not, however, think it was
the same kind?"
"I don't see much difference, for my part," responded
"Nor I either," said Emile.
"I see a difference," Jules declared, "but it is very
slight. The second agaric has white gills, while the first
"Jules has sharp eyes. I will add that in the false
orange-agaric the upper surface of the cap is sown with
shreds of white skin, debris of the torn volva. The other
one has not these shreds, or very few.
 "If one did not pay attention to these slight differences,
one would commit a very fatal error. The first mushroom is a
delicious viand; the second, or false orange-agaric, is a
"I am no longer surprised," said Jules, "at your telling
Simon that it is impossible for us, without long study, to
distinguish the good from the bad kinds. Here are two
mushrooms almost as much alike as two drops of water: one
kills, the other is excellent."
"Not a year passes without its lamentable cases of
poisoning, from a confusion of the two kinds. Remember
carefully their characteristics, so as not to expose
yourself some day to a terrible mistake."
"I will be very careful not to forget them," Jules promised.
Both orange-agarics are orange-red and have a white volva or
bag. The eatable orange-agaric has yellow gills; the
poisonous one, white gills."
"Besides," added Emile, "the poisonous orange-agaric has
numerous shreds of white skin on the cap."
"Look at this other that I picked from the trunk of a tree.
It is a large, dark-red boletus. It has no stalk. It fastens
itself to old trunks by one of its sides. It is called the
tinder-agaric boletus, because its flesh, cut in thin
slices, dried in the sun, and made flexible by hammering,
"I did not dream that tinder came from a mushroom," said
"The truffle is the most important of eatable mushrooms. It
grows under-ground, like the
myce-  lium that produces it. Its
odor betrays its presence. A very keen-scented animal, the
pig, is led into the wood. Enticed by the smell of the
subterranean mushroom, the pig roots with its snout at the
spots where the truffles are hidden. Then the pig is driven
away, but to console him they throw him a chestnut; and
finally the precious mushroom is dug up. In its shape the
truffle bears no resemblance to ordinary mushrooms. It has a
bulky round body, wrinkled, and black flesh marbled with
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