Fungi essentials

Fungi are all around us. Many are too small to be seen with the naked eye. Their roles in the air, the soil & our bodies are essential for life.

Fungi are a group of living organisms which have their own classification within the kingdoms of living organisms. Fungi are more complex than single celled bacteria, and are closer in terms of classification to animals than plants. The images below are all from our garden, & local woodland.

Estimates suggest that there are between 2.2m and 3.8m species of fungi on the Earth – thought to be as many as 10 times number of plant species. However, it is believed that only 8% of all fungal species have been described, with more than 90% of the world’s 3.8 million fungi, as yet, ‘unknown’.

Scientists at London’s Kew Botanical Gardens have carried out extensive research, exploring the diversity and evolution of the world’s fungi. Findings, in a groundbreaking report, acknowledge the silent role that fungi have always played in keeping life’s balance. They also strongly hint at the unbelievably increased potential and importance of it going forward .

Dr Ester Gaya, who led the extensive research project at Kew , couches the far reaching findings by noting that much still remains unknown about ‘fungi’ as a species. Findings do, however, indicate that the apparently humble ‘fungi’ may hold many answers to our future food security, also recycling nutrients and playing a role in the regulation of carbon dioxide levels.

“They’re really weird organisms with the most bizarre life cycle.

And yet when you understand their role in the Earth’s ecosystem, you realise that they underpin life on Earth.”

The State of the World’s Fungi report is the outcome of a collaboration between 210 researchers in 42 countries. Findings include:

  • More than 2,000 new fungi are discovered each year, from a variety of sources, including a human fingernail
  • Hundreds of species are collected and eaten as food, with the global market for edible mushrooms worth £32.5bn a year
  • Fungi’ as a species resemble Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: ‘They can provide food, medicines and solutions to problems in everyday life, but can also wreak havoc, by causing plant and animal diseases.’ For example, ‘fungi’ as a species contain some of the most damaging crop pathogens.

10 Fascinating facts about fungi

  1. Fungi are in a kingdom of their own but are closer to animals than plants
  2. Chitin is the main component of fungi cell walls. These chemicals are also vital elements in the exoskeletons of arthropods such as lobsters, crabs and insects.
  3. There is evidence to suggest that yeasts – a type of fungus – were being used to produce the alcoholic drink mead as long ago as 9,000 years ago
  4. At least 350 species are consumed as foods including truffles, which can sell for thousands of dollars apiece, quorn, and those in marmite and cheese. High protein & pleasing texture accounts for its popularity in vegan dishes.
  5. Plastic car parts, synthetic rubber and lego are made using itaconic acid derived from a fungus
  6. 216 species of fungi are thought to be hallucinogenic
  7. Fungi are being used to turn crop waste into bioethanol.
  8. A fungus has been discovered that is capable of breaking down plastics in weeks rather than years
  9. Products made from fungi can be used as replacements for polystyrene foam, leather, & building materials
  10. DNA studies show that there are thousands of different fungi in a single sample of soil, many of which are unknown and hidden – so-called “dark taxa”

At the last count, there were at least 15,000 types of fungi in the UK, some of which could be on the edge of extinction.

On the worldwide stage, adding to this danger is a lethal combination of unsustainable agricultural practices and habitat destruction driven by government policies which allow natural habitats to be ravished or neglected, and corporate greed which has resulted in an estimated 40% of all plant species being threatened with extinction. (Merlin Sheldrake, biologist & author of ‘Entangled life: How fungi make our worlds, shape our lives, change our futures).

As with RSPB’S UK wide bird studies, Kew’s citizen scientists are helping to identify fungi across the country, adding to a database of more than 1,000 new records.

Dr Brian Douglas of Great Britain & Ireland’s Lost and Found Fungi Project joins others in claiming that fungi are as beautiful as orchids, and, importantly, just as important to protect.

“I think we need to teach people, invite people in to admiring fungi.”

Colleague, Dr Oliver Ellingham adds:

“Fungi is a whole another kingdom

equal if not greater than in diversity than both the plants and animals.”

See related post: “Autumn Fungi”

Professor Willis, Kew Gardens:

“We ignore fungi at our peril…
This is a kingdom we have to start to take seriously, especially with climate change and all the other challenges that we’re being faced with.”

E.O. Wilson, the Father of the Encyclopedia of Life:

Fungi are the grand recyclers of the planet and the vanguard species in habitat restoration.
The world depends on fungi, because they are major players in the cycling of materials and energy around the world.”

1 thought on “Fungi essentials

  1. Fine photos and fascinating information that I haven’t even thought about.


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