The beauty and utility of mushrooms have mostly remained confined to theses and books. There are 6,000 to 7,000 species of mushrooms and many of them are medicinal or edible, said C.V.Subramanian, former director, Centre for Advanced Studies in Botany, University of Madras.

He was speaking about the diversity and relevance of mushrooms at the inauguration of an exhibition ‘World of Mushrooms' organised at the Government Museum, Egmore, on Wednesday.

“Many species of mushrooms are symbiotic. They grow on trees found in dense forests and supply them with certain nutrients that are essential for their growth. The trees cannot survive without the fungus. Understanding this interdependence has important relevance in afforestation programmes,” Dr. Subramanian said.

According to him, while Darwin's theory identifies competition as the driving force of evolution, there is an important element of cooperation and co-evolution in nature that is highlighted by certain species of mushrooms.

He also pointed out interesting species like Termitomyces, which are grown by termite colonies in nature while microbiologists find it difficult to grow them in labs, and species with slight variations belonging to the same fungal family resulting in the fungus being either poisonous or edible.

“Why should similar looking species with the same genetic roots be so markedly different? It is a fascinating look into the process of evolution,” Dr.Subramanian added. The exhibition will be open till March 16 between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.