Thursday, June 12, 2014

Fungus Among-us: Natures Fungi, by Sharon Powell

Photograph by: Sharon Powell

Strolling through the woods or nearby forest can become an afternoon filled with nature and the mysteries surrounding the world of “Fungi.” For many years scientists from around the globe have studied the natural wonders involved with “Mycology.”  Although there are 1.5 million fungal species known today, only 80,000 or so have been properly documented.

When gazing upon what appears to be a pile of “slimy goo,” you just may have stumbled upon a patch of “Yellow Brain Fungus”, or perhaps the reddish brown lobes of the “Jelly Leaf.” Although it may look a bit frightening, chances are the fungi are harmless, and in many cases edible. There are more species of fungal matter than the eye can behold, and many are found in famous restaurants and serve a special purpose within the world of culinary perfection. When hunting for mushrooms, "foresters" are the best people to identify various species of mushroom.  Foresters can assure your selections are not poisonous.

Fungus among Us
Many people ask; what purpose do fungi serve?  Or, perhaps what makes it so important to our environment? Searching for mushrooms has been an ancient practice shared by early Egyptians and foresters alike. In fact, mushrooms were a daily staple supporting their nutritional needs. Unbelievably the silly shapes and bold colors found in many fungi species are used as flavoring in food, or provide the necessary reaction needed in alcohol production, antibiotics and medicines. Some brands of cheese and yeast products contain fungal matter. Try to imagine consuming a loaf of molded bread or roll without the reaction created by yeast fungi.

Biological Order
Fungi are everywhere and also provide a very important function into the “natural order” of vegetation and forestland. Most importantly, fungal matter maintains the biological balances of nature and helps to breakdown “grimy soil and vegetation” as enzymes are produced. Through a complex system of biological process the enzymes work to breakdown the masses of over vegetation. And in fact, provide the forest with the natural ability to preserve itself while protecting wooded areas from being choked to death.

Some species of fungi are destructive and can cause considerable damage, such as the one shown on this month’s cover issue. “Tinder Polypore or Hoof Fungus” is commonly found in wooded areas and can attack healthy or dead trees. Parasitic fungi are referred to as “Necrotrophs.” “Necrotrophs” contain yeast like “cells or toxins” that destroy the hosts water and nutrient systems. The hoofed appearance develops from infected wood attacking the water and root systems of broad-leafed trees. Other fungi such as “Biotrophic’s” may not always kill the plant, but can “alter the life processes” while infecting seeds and germination capabilities.

Fungi or mushrooms are either edible or non-edible, meaning many varieties are poisonous and can cause death or temporary sickness. Toxic or deadly mushrooms will attack the liver, kidney, blood, and central nervous system of the victim. Possible death can occur within six hours, or up to six days later. It is always a good idea to take along a sample of the mushroom if medical attention is needed.

In order for fungi to grow specific climate conditions must exist. Most all species of fungi much like the “Morel” pictured above prefer warm, or spring like conditions where high degrees of humidity and warm temperatures exist in order to enhance the growing process. Although there are some fungi that prefer cooler climates; humidity is a common factor within the development of most fungal species.

Now that you have learned some very important information into the world of fungi, you may find it to be a fascinating experience and an excellent way to pass the time when combing the nearby wooded areas.  You could be the first person to discover the latest or new species of fungi. Have fun, and be careful who you step on!  For more information on the fabulous world of fungi, visit your local library or internet search engines at

1.) Thomas Laessoe, Mushrooms, DK Publishing, Inc. London, 1998.
2.) Bettina Kaufmann, Nadja Bremse, Konemann Publishing, Germany, 1998.