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Lake Tahoe, United States

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Artist's Description

Fungi are so different from plants and animals that scientists have placed them in their own kingdom. It wasn’t always so. Until the 1700s, biologists thought fungi were plants. Only when the microscope was invented were they able to reveal important differences.

We seldom see most of the living parts of a fungus. They lie concealed beneath the surface of its substrate—the soil, a tree, a loaf of bread, or an orange. All fungi—moulds, yeasts, mushrooms, and relatives—are masses of fine, branching threads or tubes, called hyphae (singular: hypha) spreading outwards in their quest for food.

The whole diffuse mass of hyphae is called a thallus or mycelium (plural: thalli, mycelia). Unlike a plant or animal, the body of a fungus is not divided into tissues or organs such as leaves, roots, or a nervous system .

Like plants, fungi have bodies composed of cells. But unlike plants, they lack chlorophyll, the molecule used in photosynthesis to produce sugars with the help of sunlight. Instead fungi feed themselves in an animal-like way. They utilize plant and other organic matter by releasing a variety of powerful enzymes into their surroundings. Enzymes break complex organic matter into simpler water soluble compounds. The fungi then absorb these smaller molecules into their cell and use them to grow.

Another major difference between plants and fungi is the composition of their cell walls. Cellulose is the material that adds firmness to the walls of plant cells. Fungi toughen theirs with chitin, the material that also forms the exoskeletons of insects, crabs, and lobsters.

Fungi play a role in the natural world that is far more profound than simply providing us with culinary delights. Life as we know it would not exist without fungi. They are the critical link in the biological cycle of life and death.

Fungi are the great recyclers. They play a major part, with prokaryotes such as bacteria, in breaking down organic matter. Without them we would soon be up to our ears in dead plant matter and animal carcasses. Worse still, we would be surrounded by mountains of dung that would not rot.

Plants would soon run out of fresh nutrients. Animals in turn would go hungry.

There would be no forests. Few people realize that trees rely on networks of fungi working in partnership with their roots. Without fungi to make nutrients available, trees would be unable to survive. Consider the many roles trees play in supporting life on earth and you’ll realize the importance of this union.

Fungi have their dark side too. They have caused famine, and disease in plants, animals, and humans. They have destroyed buildings, bridges, even railroads. But for every species of fungus that causes harm there are hundreds—if not thousands—that bring benefits to humankind.


These mushrooms were found in Corte Madera California on January 2nd . Canon digital eos rebel and photoshop alterations

Artwork Comments

  • Kat Simmons
  • headygirl
  • vandeBelt
  • headygirl
  • vandeBelt
  • headygirl
  • Photography  by Mathilde
  • headygirl
  • Turi Caggegi
  • headygirl
  • headygirl
  • Laurie Minor
  • headygirl
  • Joyce Ann Burton-Sousa
  • headygirl
  • (Particle) Quark
  • headygirl
desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait
desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait

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