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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Lactarius indigo gills
Lactarius indigo, commonly known as the indigo milk cap, the indigo Lactarius or the blue Lactarius, is a species of fungus in the mushroom family Russulaceae. A widely distributed species, it grows naturally in eastern North America, East Asia, and Central America. In Europe, it has so far only been found in southern France.[1] L. indigo grows on the ground in both deciduous and coniferous forests, where it forms mycorrhizal associations with a broad range of trees. The fruiting body color ranges from dark blue in fresh specimens to pale blue-gray in older ones. The milk, or latex, that oozes when the mushroom tissue is cut or broken—a feature common to all members of the genus Lactarius—is also indigo blue, but slowly turns green upon exposure to air. The cap is typically between 5 to 15 cm (2 to 6 in) broad, and the stem 2 to 8 cm (0.8 to 3.1 in) tall by 1 to 2.5 cm (0.4 to 1.0 in) thick. It is an edible mushroom, and is sold in rural markets in Mexico, Guatemala, and China.

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Lactarius piperatus, commonly known as the peppery milk-cap is a semi-edible basidiomycete fungus of the genus Lactarius. Despite being edible, it is not recommended due to its poor taste, though can be used as seasoning when dried. The fruiting body is a creamy-white mushroom which is funnel-shaped when mature, with exceptionally crowded gills. It bleeds a whitish peppery-tasting milk when cut. Widely distributed across Europe and eastern North America, Lactarius piperatus has been accidentally introduced to Australia. Mycorrhizal, it forms a symbiotic relationship with various species of deciduous tree, including beech, and hazel, and fruiting bodies are found on the forest floor in deciduous woodland.

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Credit: Jörg Hempel
A clump of Hypholoma fasciculare, a common woodland mushroom.

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Main topics lists: Outline of fungi and Outline of lichens


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  1. ^ Bon, Marcel (1988). Pareys Buch der Pilze (in German). Hamburg, Berlin: Paul Parey. p. 80. ISBN 3-490-19818-2.
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