Fungi

Fungi

My thoughts are still on plants and things that grow. One area of things that grow, which I find so complex is that of Fungi. They are not a plant or animal, but in a kingdom of their own. Even the word Fungi is complex. Fungi and fungi mean different things. The lower case ‘fungi” refers to organisms that all look and act the same, but are not all related. It includes moulds, yeasts, mushrooms, slime moulds and water moulds. “Fungi”, with a capital ‘F’ includes moulds, yeasts and mushrooms, but not slime moulds or water moulds.

Fungi play a vital role on our planet and are everywhere. They even live on and inside us. They are basically like a stomach turned inside-out. They live in and on their food, releasing enzymes outside their bodies. Those enzymes break down nutrients into smaller pieces that they can then absorb.

Then there is the question of is it a mushroom or toadstool? It seems that the terms are used interchangeably, but mostly toadstool is used when the fungi is poisonous. Given my inability to identify them, I guess I should just call them all fungi! Trying to identify fungi is something I have not been able to master. The shapes and colours can vary so much. Some are single cells called yeasts, while most are built from masses of tiny filaments.

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Unless it is very distinctive, like the yellow-orange fly agaric (Amanita muscaria var. Formosa), I struggle to be sure what I am seeing. These little mushrooms like to grow under our white pine trees. The white spots are called warts and are what are left of the universal veil that covered the mushroom when it was in the immature “egg” stage. They are so colourful amongst the drab browns of the forest floor.

Another colourful toadstool I found, which I think I have identified correctly, is Hygrocybe conica.

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It is commonly known as the witch’s hat, conical wax cap or conical slimy cap. They are found in summer and fall and they are not edible.

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As for this one, I have no idea and without looking underneath I think it might be hard to know for sure.

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There are many types of fungus that grow on tree trunks. Most fungi that inhabit tree trunks or branches, consuming the wood are called polypores. They are also known as bracket fungi and their woody fruiting bodies are called conks.

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Phellinus igniarius has common names of False tinder, Willow bracket and Fire sponge.

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This one is much harder to identify and looks like one commonly called Turkey tail, but there are similar ones that are Turkey tail look-alike Fungi.

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I thought this one would be easy to identify, but I couldn’t find one that looked similar enough to be sure. It could be Fomes fomentarius, or Horse Hoof Tinder Fungus, although it looks too smooth from the images I saw. Apparently Horse Hoof Tinder Fungus can also be used to make a tea.   The vast majority of polypores are not poisonous, but given my poor skills at identification I am not about to try it!

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Whilst on the topic of Fungi, I should perhaps mention lichen. It is also in a world of its own with properties that are sometimes plant-like, but it isn’t a plant. It is actually two organisms functioning as a single unit and is a fungus living in a symbiotic relationship with an alga or cyanobacterium. There are about 17,000 species of lichen worldwide, so I am not even going to try and identify what I found! They come in many colours, sizes and forms. They can be like my lichen; flakes that lie on the surface like peeling paint, they can sometimes look plant-like, they may have tiny leafless branches, flat leaf-like structures and may other forms too. They do not have roots that absorb water and nutrients like plants. They produce their own food by photosynthesis, using solar energy, from carbon dioxide, water and minerals in their environment.

One interesting fact I found while looking for information about lichens is that they can absorb pollutants, such as heavy metals, carbon and sulphur. They make good indicators of pollution. A process called biomonitoring extracts these pollutants and it shows the levels present in the atmosphere. The type of lichens growing also indicates pollution levels. Air pollutants dissolved in rainwater, especially sulphur dioxide, can damage lichens and prevent them from growing. Bushy lichens need really clean air to grow, leafy lichens can survive a small amount of air pollution and crusty lichens can tolerate more polluted air. Places where no lichens are growing can be a sign that the air is heavily polluted with sulphur dioxide.

Another fact I found of interest is that lichens make chemicals to help them defend disease and parasites or make them taste unpleasant to animals. Some of these compounds are now used as anti-viral and anti-bacterial medications. There are so many hidden treasures for us to discover “and I say to myself, what a wonderful world!”

 

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