Fungi

As summer ends and autumn returns most lifeforms seem to be gradually slowing down and preparing for the long winter months ahead. Trees shed their leaves, summer visiting birds depart taking with them their melodious rhythm’s and flowers droop exhaustedly, wither and fade away. And yet as all around us life seems to be disappearing, surreptitiously below ground, be it in woodlands, meadows, fields or less natural locations, there are living entities waiting to burst forth in a vast array of strange and eerie coloured shapes. As soon as the conditions are right these underground networks erupt in a bizarre display of fruiting bodies, thriving on the loss of others and yet paradoxically existing to the benefit of others.

The diverse array of multi-coloured growths we come across, primarily in the autumnal months of the year, are what we know as fungi. However, these are only the fruiting bodies of underground organisms that are neither plant nor animal. These mystical creations are structured in a way similar to plants yet feed in the way of animals, by drawing sustenance from living or dead matter. These two major factors contribute to fungi being classified in a kingdom of their own.

Just below ground level in dark concealment, fungi, in one form or another thrive, feeding off the dying and giving to the living. In fact these are the worlds natural recycler’s, responsible for the major breakdown of a wide range of vast and varied compounds. By breaking up waste and dead plant material they not only dispose of waste substances but also compose a variety of new nutrients, which are vital for the sustenance of other lifeforms. Fungi contain no chlorophyll and so do not photo-synthesize therefore they obtain their nutrients from other plants or animals, and yet without fungi a multitude of life could not exist due to their utter dependence on these fascinating forms. For example many orchids are dependant on a fungal partner so as to assist in the initial germination process of the plants life .

Fungi’s basic building blocks are known as Hyphae. These are thread like filaments which are joined together to form a woolly mass thus creating the Mycelium. This is basically the vegetative state of the fungus and lives just below the soil level awaiting the correct conditions to produce fruiting bodies. These fruiting bodies are produced, as in plants, to create and disperse seeds, or in the case of fungi, spores. From 1 fruit millions upon millions of spores may be dispersed on the wind spreading the species far and wide, and of course in great numbers. Many spores will never germinate but with so many distributed only a handful need find the right conditions for the survival of the species. As soon as all spores are dispersed or the first frost appears most fungi return to their hidden vegetative state, alive but barely noticeable until the following year.

Links

A- Z Index

When and where do fungi grow

Fungal Families

How to identify fungi

Fungak facts

Gallery

The Micro Fungi Gallery

Glossary