Fascinating Fungi: What You Probably Didn’t Know About Fungi

Out of the copious organisms on earth, people tend to over look the “fascinating fungus.” If you ask someone what a fungus is, they will say, “It’s a mushroom.” Fungi aren’t just mushrooms! In fact, most fungi aren’t even mushrooms! Fungi is a diverse kingdom, full of interesting facts most people do not know.

First, I will mention the most common fact most people don’t know about fungus, specifically mushrooms: the top of a mushroom is not the main part of the mushroom! The stalk, cap, and gills (the above-ground part of the mushroom) only form to reproduce, but it really isn’t the mushroom! The main part of the mushroom is the mycelia. Mycelia appear like roots on a tree, but function totally different. Mycelia function as the feature used for digestion. They don’t absorb water like roots, but they digest through extracellular digestion. First, they put chemicals on needed nutrients, those chemicals break down the nutrients. Once the nutrients have been broken down, they are absorbed by the hypha (filaments of the mycelium), and covert those nutrients to energy needed to support the fungus. This means, if you kick a mushroom, knock off the stalk and the cap, you don’t kill the mushroom! It will simply grow back.

Second, fungi are more than just mushrooms! There are parasitic fungi that usually live on plants (although they can infect other organisms), slime molds (although there is a dispute on whether they are fungi or protists), shelf fungi, yeasts, and many more. Mushrooms are only in one of the five phyla in kingdom fungi, Basidiomycota. Kingdom fungi is one of the most diverse kingdoms, so there would, of course, be much more organisms than simply mushrooms.

Third, fungi are not purposeless! Many organisms people consider pointless. However, every organism on earth has a purpose. Fungi’s purpose is to decompose other organisms. A tree can lose about forty pounds of leaves ever year; if a tree continued at this pace, within a few years it would choke itself with its own leaves. Fungi, however, can root their mycelia into areas needing leaf decomposing. Also, fungi (as well as bacteria) decompose other dead organisms, in other words, they are saprophytic. Saprophytic organisms decompose dead organisms to sustain them, but it also creates more space. If organisms never decomposed, there would be dead organisms everywhere.

Fourth, there is a reason why people don’t grow or simply go out and pick mushrooms. Sometimes, people think it is a simple dogma, being untrue. To put it succinctly: it IS true! There are species of mushrooms looking exactly the same, yet one is esculent, but the other is poisonous. Even experts will sometimes pick poisonous mushrooms. So, always eat mushrooms from the store.

Kingdom fungi, out of all of the kingdoms, I think is the most fascinating. Unfortunately, although with protists, they seem to be the least known. I would encourage you to further your knowledge of fungi, there is much to learn! Fungi is a truly captivating subject, being a spectacularly diverse kingdom.

220px-Amanita_muscaria_(fly_agaric)

 

An Amanita muscaria mushroom. Picture provided by: Wikipedia.org

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