The Fungi Portal


A fungus is any member of a large group of eukaryotic organisms that includes microorganisms such as yeasts and molds, as well as the more familiar mushrooms. The Fungi are classified as a kingdom that is separate from plants and animals. The discipline of biology devoted to the study of fungi is known as mycology or fungal biology, which is historically regarded as a branch of botany, even though genetic studies have shown that fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants. Fungi reproduce via spores and grow as hyphae, mycelia, and futher specialized structures. Fungal spores are often produced on specialized structures or in fruiting bodies, such as the head of a mushroom. Abundant worldwide, most fungi are mostly invisible to the naked eye because of the small size of their structures, and their cryptic lifestyles in soil, on dead matter, and as symbionts of plants, animals, or other fungi. Fungi perform an essential role in the decomposition of organic matter and have fundamental roles in nutrient cycling and exchange. They have long been used as a direct source of food, such as mushrooms and truffles, as a leavening agent for bread, and in fermentation of various food products, such as wine, beer, and soy sauce.

Since the 1940s, fungi have been used for the production of antibiotics, and, more recently, various enzymes produced by fungi are used industrially and in detergents. Fungi are also used as biological agents to control weeds and pests. Many species produce bioactive compounds called mycotoxins, such as alkaloids and polyketides, that are toxic to animals including humans. The fruiting structures of a few species are consumed recreationally or in traditional ceremonies as a source of psychotropic compounds. Fungi can break down manufactured materials and buildings, and become significant pathogens of humans and other animals. Losses of crops due to fungal diseases or food spoilage can have a large impact on human food supplies and local economies. Despite their importance on human affairs, little is known of the true biodiversity of Kingdom Fungi, which has been estimated at around 1.5 million species, with about 5% of these having been formally classified.

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Sarcoscypha coccinea
Sarcoscypha coccinea, commonly known as the scarlet elf cup, or the scarlet cup, is a species of fungus in the family Sarcoscyphaceae of the order Pezizales. The fungus, widely distributed in the Northern Hemisphere, has been found in Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America, and Australia. The type species of the genus Sarcoscypha, it has been known by many names since its first appearance in the scientific literature in 1772. Phylogenetic analysis shows the species to be most closely related to other Sarcoscypha species that contain numerous small oil droplets in their spores, such as the North Atlantic island species S. macaronesica. Due to similar physical appearances and sometimes overlapping distributions, S. coccinea has often been confused with S. occidentalis, S. austriaca, and S. dudleyi.

The saprobic fungus grows on decaying sticks and branches in damp spots on forest floors, generally buried under leaf litter or in the soil. The cup-shaped fruit bodies are usually produced during the cooler months of winter and early spring. The brilliant red interior of the cups—from which both the common and scientific names are derived—contrasts with the lighter-colored exterior. The edibility of the fruit bodies is not clearly established, but its small size, tough texture and insubstantial fruitings would dissuade most people from collecting for the table. The fungus has been used medicinally by the Oneida Indians, and also as a colorful component of table decorations in England. The species Molliardiomyces eucoccinea is an imperfect form of the fungus that lacks a sexually reproductive stage in its life cycle.

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Lactarius deceptivus 50255.jpg
Lactarius deceptivus, commonly known as the deceiving milkcap, is a common species of fungus in the family Russulaceae. It is found throughout eastern North America on the ground in coniferous forests near hemlock or deciduous forests near oak, and in oak-dominated forests of Costa Rica. It produces large mushrooms with funnel-shaped caps reaching up to 25 cm (9.8 in) in diameter, on top of hard white stems that may reach 4–10 cm (1.6–3.9 in) long and up to 3 cm (1.2 in) thick. The gills are closely spaced together and yellowish-cream in color. When young, the cap is white in all parts, but the depressed center becomes dull brownish in age and breaks up into scales. The edge of the cap has a roll of cottony tissue that collapses as the cap expands. The surface of the stem—especially near the base—has a velvety texture. The mushroom "bleeds" a milky white acrid latex when it is cut or injured. The fruit bodies are edible, but have a bitter taste that can be removed with cooking. Similar Lactarius species with which L. deceptivus might be confused include L. pipertatus, L. pseudodeceptivus, L. caeruleitinctus, L. arcuatus, L. parvulus, and L. subvellereus.

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PanellusStipticusAug12 2009.jpg
Credit: Ylem
A 517 second exposure photograph of Panellus stipticus, displaying the species's bioluminescence, sometimes referred to as foxfire.

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