Kingdom Fungi

Did you say yuchhi or yummi?


  1. Unifying Characteristics
    1. Mostly multicelled
    2. Eukaryotic
    3. Absorbtive Heterotrophs (most saprobes, some parasites.) 
    4. Reliance on extracellular digestion of organic matter and absorption of nutrients by individual cells.
    5. Major decomposers of nearly all communities. 


    II.  Classification

A.       PHYLUM ZYGOMYCOTA.  Zygomycetes.  All produce nonmotile spores.  Bread molds, related forms. Rhizopus, Philobolus.

B.       PHYLUM ASOMYCOTA.  Asomycetes.  Sac Fungi.  Most yeasts and molds; morels, truffles.  Saccharomycetes, Morchella Neurospora, Sarcoscypha.  Claviceps, Ophiostoma.

C.      PHYLUM BASIDIOMYCOTA.  Basidiomycetes.  Club Fungi.  Mushrooms, shelf fungi, stinkhorns.  Agaricus, Amanita, Puccinia, Ustilago.

D.      IMPERFECT FUNGI.  Sexual spores absent or undetected.  The group has no formal taxonomic status.  If better understood, a given species might be grouped with sac fungi and club fungi. Verticillium, Candida albicans, Microsporum, Histoplasma.

E.       LICHENS.  Mutualistic interactions between a fungus and a cyanobacterium, green algae, or both.  Usnea, Cladonia.


Fungus Facts

         Mushrooms, brackets, puffballs, moulds, mildews, yeasts, rusts and smuts are all types of fungi (note: toadstool generally refers to an inedible or poisonous mushroom but there is no unequivocal definition and the term is best avoided).

         Unlike plants fungi have no chlorophyll and must get food from organic substances. Some are parasites existing on living plants, animals, or even other fungi. Many fungi are saprotrophs, living on dead organic matter such as leaf litter, dung etc and have an important role in re-cycling. Others form symbiotic associations with plants (mycorrhizal fungi) or algae (lichens).

         When fungi cause damage to useful materials it is known as biodeterioration.

         The discovery of penicillin produced by a mould was one of the most crucial medical developments of the 20th Century.

         Some of the most important organisms used in biotechnology are fungi with applications ranging from the production of industrial enzymes to clean-up of toxic wastes.

         The number of known species of fungi is about 69,000 but that in the world has been conservatively estimated at 1.5 million (Mycological Research, 1991, 95: 641 - 655).

         Species of fungi are disappearing due to loss of habitat faster than mycologists can study them. More details from the Friends of the Earth.

         An individual honey fungus Armillaria bulbosa is claimed to be the world's largest and oldest living organism - estimated to be some 1,500 years old and more than 10,000 kg in weight, its underground network of hyphae occupies 15 hectares (Nature, 1992, 356: 428 - 431).

         Mushrooms are quite capable of forcing their way up through asphalt and lifting paving stones. People have been using fungi for purposes other than food for thousands of years. Tinder material prepared from the bracket fungus, Fomes fomentarius, and pieces of the polypore, Piptoporus betulinus, were found with the frozen remains of a Neolithic man discovered in an alpine glacier in 1991. The remains have been dated to between 3350 and 3100 BC (Mycological Research, 1998, 102: 1153 - 1162).

         Ants first started to cultivate fungi in underground gardens around 50 million years ago. Today, leafcutter ants remove more of the vegetation in a tropical American rainforest than any other group of animals, including mammals. Their fungal partners break down cellulose providing the ants with a predigested source of food (New Scientist supplement, 6 March 1999).

Copyright 1996-2000: Paul F Hamlyn / NWFG
Last updated: 6 February, 2000




Synopsis of the Mycoses: Infections caused by fungi







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