My Kingdom for Fungi? No! My Kingdom for a Horse!

Polyporus squamosus Molter

I’ve often wondered if you should refer to fungi as a plant or a vegetable? After all, we do eat them. Personally, I don’t really care for this sort of food because I don’t like the taste. That said, I also can’t get the idea out of my head that it grows by feeding off waste.

OK, so that might be a bit dramatic, but the subject of Kingdom Fungi has piqued my interest, so I thought I would do some research and pass my findings on to others who are curious about it as well. In the following few words, I aim to educate and not gross you out (I hope).

Animal, Vegetable or Mineral

geastrum triplex

Before I tie everyone reading this in knots, I’m going to keep it simple. When you think of a fungus, the first thing that comes to mind is that “tasty” mushroom you have chopped up in a salad, or as a side dish with your steak. However, this is just one of a massively diverse set of organisms.

Scientists have conveniently split the kingdom of fungi into four groups known as: imperfect, club, sac, and conjugating. It might also interest you to know that the study of fungi is called mycology (wow your friends with that at your next steak dinner)! It’s also thought there are about 200,000 different species of fungi, but the world of science has only managed to identify about 100,000.

Starting With the Species you Should Know

Ok, so enough with the trivia and on to the informative stuff. Let me start with conjugating fungi. The chances are you’ve come across this type many times before especially since there are around 600 types.

Most can be found on land but there are a few that can be termed as parasitic. If you do come across some conjugating fungi, it’s likely to be in the form of black mold on bread, water mold, or a downy type mildew.

Whilst the fungi above don’t sound very nice (especially when you’re met with it when trying to toast some bread first thing in the morning), the sac fungi is slightly different……..

shroom

Good for Humans Not for Plants

The sac variety is named as such because of the way it reproduces which involves it creating something called an “ascus” which literally translates into “sac” (more trivia for you). This type is good for humans because it comes in the form of many yeasts which can be used for brewing beer or making bread. If you like a truffle or two, the next time you feast your eyes on one, remember this is also a sac type fungus which grows underground.

It can appear on fruit or vegetables in the form of a blue-green mold which interestingly is the same that’s used in the production of blue cheeses. However, this little “fella” isn’t so good for trees because it causes diseases such as Dutch Elm and nearly wiped out the American chestnut!

It’s all a Bit Imperfect

The way this group of the kingdom fungi reproduce is somewhat of a mystery because, well, it’s missing! Some scientists believe this has happened due to evolution (thanks Darwin) and that’s why they’re referred to as “imperfect”. This group isn’t particularly nice as it spends its life creating disease in both animals and humans. If you’ve ever suffered from ringworm or athlete’s foot, these “critters” are responsible for it.

As with the sac variety, it can appear as a green-blue mold on cheese, fruit and vegetables however, it is also used in the production of blue cheese as well. One thing you can thank the imperfect variety for is penicillin as we all know was discovered by Alexander Fleming.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly!

schizophyllum commune

I did promise not to gross you out at the beginning of this piece and I apologize if you don’t think you can ever face a truffle again! However, whilst some of the species I’ve elaborated on aren’t very nice, there are others that are beneficial to humans. Of course, in the case where certain species can appear as mildew or mold, you will want to keep these out of your life as best you can.

One way to do this is to make sure the humidity levels don’t get out of control in the home, and there are some fantastic dehumidifiers on the market these days. If you’re worried about them being too noisy, Frigidaire have managed to silence their top model.

Kingdom Fungi are Here to Stay

Whatever you might think of this organism, it’s here to stay and the chances are new species will be discovered all the time. Just try and remember there are ways to keep the “nasties” at bay, but they can be beneficial as well.