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10 Neat Things About Fungus
by Dorothy Dobbie
by Dorothy Dobbie

The Local Gardener magazines, Ontario Gardener, Manitoba Gardener and Alberta Gardener, are published by Pegasus Publications Inc.

Drawing on her 30 years' experience as a senior executive in the magazine publishing industry, Dorothy launched Manitoba Gardener in 1998, initially running the business out of her home. Two years later, Dorothy's daughter Shauna, living in Ontario, jumped into the fray with Ontario Gardener. And two years after that, they started Alberta Gardener. Visit us at and register for our "Ten Neat things" newsletter. Watch Shaw TV for garden tips and Listen to CJOB for the Gardener Sundays at 9:08

December 13, 2016

1. A fungus is not a plant or an animal. Fungus is in a class or a kingdom by itself, separate from plants, animals and bacteria. It lacks chlorophyll and feeds on organic matter. There are over 100,000 species of fungus. Most are beneficial to humans but some can be harmful and even cause death.

2. The study of fungi is known as mycology and is often considered a branch of botany, even though it has been shown that fungi are closer to animals than to plants. Fungi are arguably the most important group of organisms on earth. They are responsible for recycling, important as food, used in medicines and as bio-controls. They are also responsible for many plant and animal diseases and can be toxic and even deadly.

3. Most fungi lived unnoticed underground or on hosts, where they live an invisible life until they decide to "fruit" or propagate. When this happens you see this as a mushroom or a mold.

4. The fruiting body is part of the sexual phase of a fungal life cycle. When you eat mushrooms, you are eating the vegetative part of this phase called mycelia. These contain the spore caps of the fungus and mycelia emerge into the air to disperse spores.

5. Truffles, on the other hand, have lost their ability to disperse their spores by air, so they wait for the help of animals to eat them and do the work of dispersal for them. Truffles form a symbiotic relationship with the mycorrhizae of certain trees such as beech, poplar, oak, birch, hazel and pine. You can find them in the leaf debris around the roots. Truffles contain a pheromone that is particularly attractive to men. Pigs are also compulsively attracted to truffles.

6. Yeast is a one-celled fungus. There are about 1,500 know species of yeast. These fungi are used for leavening bread, fermenting wine and beer, and in the production of antibiotics. It was Louis Pasteur who first understood how yeast works in fermentation and who was instrumental in developing the baker's yeast we use today.

7. Molds are multi-celled fungi and include mushrooms. The mushroom is a fruiting body designed to release spores, which are able to survive extreme temperatures and remain airborne indefinitely. Cultured molds are used in producing cheese, sausages, soy sauce, beverages, antibiotics and enzymes.

8. Fungus called "magic mushrooms" (Psilocybin mushrooms) have psychotropic compounds that act on the central nervous system, changing perception, mood and consciousness. They are now being made illegal in many jurisdictions, but unlike marijuana, they are difficult to eradicate as they can spring up on anyone's lawn, especially on the West Coast and in other temperate locations.

9. Shaggy ink cap mushrooms (Coprinus comatus) secrete a black liquid that can be used in a pinch to write a last minute will should you fall into the trap of eating the wrong variety (the alcohol ink cap is toxic if eaten with alcohol). Actually, ink cap mushroom should be called abstinence mushroom, as you shouldn't drink alcohol for several days before or after eating any of these mushrooms. If you do, you will become very ill. They contain a self-digesting enzyme that will turn them into a wet black mass in no time.

10. Most plant roots harbour fungal growths called mycorrhizae. Mycorrhizae form a symbiotic relationship with the plants, exchanging carbohydrates from the plant (in the form of sucrose and glucose) and bestowing on the plant an enhanced ability to absorb water and mineral nutrient. This is a great advantage to plants such as elm trees, which use mycorrhizae to transfer food from one tree to another. The mycelia of mycorrhizae can extend the plant's reach for nutrients and water by miles. The underground network of mycorrhizae is sometimes known as the wood wide web.

Dorothy Dobbie Copyright© Pegasus Publications Inc.

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