Fungi are different to any other organism, plant or animal, that you may find in your garden. It’s important to be able to identify them because some can be deadly if eaten!
What do fungi do in my garden?
Fungi are the decomposers of the natural world, acting like mini recycling plants to break down organic matter into molecules which plants can eat. Some fungi form symbiotic relationships with plants, growing on their roots and helping them by providing more food or resistance to organisms which may seek to eat them. In return, the fungi may receive food or shelter from the plant. How’s that for teamwork!
How do fungi eat?
Fungi give themselves the best chance of finding food by increasing their surface area as much as possible to uptake nutrients. They grow as hyphae, which are thin, tubular structures which branch out like a tree’s branches and form networks called mycelia which make up the fungal body. They are very strong and can push through things like plant tissue with ease. Digestive enzymes are secreted which break down their food so that the nutrients can be easily absorbed.
How do fungi reproduce?
Fungi can reproduce both sexually and asexually. More often than not, fungi reproduce by asexual reproduction, most commonly by spores which form on the inside or outside of the fungi. They then release the spores into the air, which float away to make a new home elsewhere.
Other asexual reproduction involves ‘budding’ where a clone of the original fungus grows on it and then breaks off later on.
Sexual reproduction is complex and happens in many different ways, but most often by way of the hyphae. In sexual reproduction, hyphae containing the sexual organs come together, sometimes dissolving into one another. Hyphae sometimes break off and are carried on the air until they meet other fungi when they can reproduce sexually. As you can see, reproduction in fungi is varied and incredibly complex!
- Fungi have many uses in medicine, as food, in cheese production or in pest control.
- They have developed several ingenious ways to spread their spores. Some species spit them out, some release them into drops of water during rainfall and some attract insects which disperse the spores.
- Up until the 20th century, scientists classified fungi in the plant kingdom but new scientific methods have allowed us to look more closely at fungi, revealing that they are very unique organisms.
- Their cell walls are very unique because they mix glucans, normally present in plants, and chitin, usually present in insect’s exoskeletons – they really are odd organisms!
- Mushrooms are the fruiting body of fungi but the organism may be much larger as the rest of it exists underground.
- Some fungi are known as the largest organisms in the world. The North American species, armillaria solidipes, has been recorded covering areas over 3 square miles and being several thousand years old!
- Some species of fungi have edible mushrooms but many are poisonous and can even cause death if eaten. So maybe stick to eating the kind you find in the supermarket!