The gasteromycetes are a group of fungi that are related not by ancestry but by their natural history. All members of this assemblage have basidia that no longer possess the ability to discharge their basidiospores out into their environment. Instead, when the basidiospores are mature the basidia wither away, leaving them behind in a mass. You may wonder how a fungus that has the means of actively shooting its spores can survive when this ability is lost. The answer to your question leads us directly to the diversity of fungi that have faced such a problem.


It is probably common for an individual fungus to come into the world with some kind of defect. In most cases the fungus will not be able to survive and will die before it has produced any progeny. In some unusual situations the "defect" may lead to some kind of advantage and the fungus having it will thrive and reproduce abundantly, possibly passing the "defective" genes on its progeny and thus starting a new generation of fungi with an enhanced capacity for survival and reproduction. Such may be the case in fungi that arise with the inability to shoot their basidiospores. Perhaps such fungi gain an advantage in a fiercely competitive world by keeping their basidiospores at home and not sending them off to new places. We can never know exactly what led to the proliferation of Gasteromycetes, but we are quite sure that their remote ancestors could shoot their basidiospores and that their more recent ones could not.

If a fungus cannot shoot its basidiospores away, how does it disperse them? As it turns out, in some pretty ingenious ways. The four groups of Gasteromycetes presented here differ greatly in how they have faced this challenge. These major groups are: