The World of Fungi
BY JULIE YOUMANS
PHOTO CREDITS: JULIE YOUMANS
an unseen life cycle
Most fungi life takes place underground or under layers of bark or wood until it produces its fruiting body, what we see, a mushroom, mold, rust, or fungus. Pushing through the earth and sometimes heavy man made barriers – things such as asphalt – fungi push upward to disperse the spores which will germinate into the threadlike structures that produce the next generation. The fruiting body lasts a short time then collapses and decays. Fungi appear in a wide array of colors including white, beige, lavender, orange, olive green, and yellow.
2 tall tales
Greek myth tells us that mushrooms are formed when lightening strikes the earth. Medieval lore describes fairies creating fairy rings used for their spritely activities. Mycologists explain that the underground network of filaments that grow and interlace form a mat. When two filaments meet and moisture and nutritional conditions are right they produce the fruiting body that pushes up through the surface of the earth or bark.
3 models for sustenance
Some fungi digest dead material and activate a natural composting process; others digest living tissue of trees and plants; a third group, takes on a symbiotic role, assisting plants absorb water and minerals as the plant mutually provides nutrition for the fungus.
the safe and the sorry
Fungi have given us penicillin discovered in rotting canteloupe, the blue veins in cheeses, and yeasts for making beer. On the other hand, toxins in false morels are identical to a fuel propellant used in the US space program; in amanitas, only a few spoonfuls are required to cause death.
See the full photo album (10 photos).