Fungus Among Us

Fungus is a kingdom, in the biologic sense. Roughly 100,000 species of fungi have been identified, although an estimated 1.5 million species exist. These organisms range from single-celled invaders of the bodies of humans and other animals, such as candida, to massive connected life forms thought to be the largest living things on earth. An example is the Armillaria ostoyae, which covers 3.4 square miles of forest in Oregon, and has been living for more than 2000 years. Fungi are eukaryotic organisms. This means they have a nucleus in each cell which contains their DNA. They are more closely related, genetically, to animals than to plants, and the earliest fungal life arose about 450 million years ago.

A Fairy Ring

This is a fairy ring. Depending on your culture, it can be evil or good, but evil, witchy or hedonistic elfin seems to win out. If you look carefully, you will notice the darker ring of grass where the mushrooms are popping up. The mycelium, an outward spreading network of hyphae, causes this appearance. Hyphae are the strands of multicellular growth of fungi, in this case, underground, which allow for propagation. Where the mushrooms are popping up, the hyphae are secreting enzymes which digest nutrients outside the hyphae, allowing them to diffuse back into the hyphae and support growth. As part of this, nitrogen compounds are released into the soil for the nourishment of the hyphae, but are also available for grass roots to use, making the grass taller and darker.

Penicillium Hyphae
Y_tambe, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Not intending to write a treatise on fungus, I want to display some of the amazing forms mushrooms take. Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi, which spread spores and enable fungi to propagate to new locations. Many are deadly poison to humans, some only a little poisonous and some edible. All, to me, are fascinating.

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